PGA TOUR Wives visit University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
March 31, 2016
By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff
HOUSTON- Damon Billeck looked thoughtfully at the Shell Houston Open pin flag spread across the crafting table at which he sat in the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The 11-year-old was asked to color on it something that best described who he was.
Damon uncapped a red Sharpie, angled his hairless head slightly to the right and went to work. His meticulous effort resulted in a collection of strategically-placed shapes and colors, which morphed into an emblematic image on the flag.
Damon was visibly pleased with what he saw.
“This,” he said, “is probably the best one yet.”
“What have you drawn?” Lisa Billeck asked, from over her son’s shoulder.
“Mr. America’s shield,” Damon said. “I’m Mr. America.”
In 2014, at the age of nine, Damon was diagnosed with osteosarcoma bone cancer. As a result, he lost his left arm. During treatment, he lost his hair.
Every week, Lisa and her husband David Billeck make the six-hour, round-trip commute from their home in San Antonio to MD Anderson Cancer Center for Damon’s treatment because, “They make a world of difference here. They are just awesome.”
On Wednesday of this week’s Shell Houston Open, members of the PGA TOUR Wives Association made the trek from the Golf Club of Houston to MD Anderson to help remind patients that, like all their contemporaries, they are perfectly normal kids, too.
“We're partnering with the MD Anderson to make the children here feel like their lives are as normal as their peers,” said Kristin Gonzales, wife of PGA TOUR player Andres Gonzales. “We're doing putt-putt golf here in the indoor park and have crafts of decorating hats and pin flags.”
For patients unable to get downstairs, the wives spent time making crafts with them in their rooms.
“The hope here is that the kids, at least for a little while, will be able to forget about their treatments and their tests and just get to be themselves,” Gonzales said.
“This means everything to our patients, said Cindy Schwartz, Division Head, Interim of Pediatrics at MD Anderson. “While insurance will pay for the medicines and those things, our children are going through a year to three years of treatment where they're really outside of being in the normal fray of childhood.”
The PGA TOUR Wives Association not only gave of its heart Wednesday, but of its resources in the form of a $10,000 donation. The donated funds to the MD Anderson Cancer Center will provide patients the opportunity to attend in-hospital summer camps, a new in-patient “Prom night” experience and off-site Junior Camper Day.
“Having the opportunities to do these sorts of things that children otherwise might not be able to do is remarkable,” said Schwartz. “They might not go to their prom, may not be able to go out and go to a place and play with other kids. So, having those kinds of opportunities is wonderful.”
“It's lovely to be able to come to all the places we go and just be able to find something to do to impact the community,” said Rachel Thompson, wife of TOUR player Michael Thompson. “It's great to have the platform of the PGA TOUR, because we wouldn't be able to do this kind of stuff otherwise. That's why we're really thankful to do what we do, because it allows us to have more impact.”
“I think it makes all the difference in their lives,” said Schwartz, who is also a Professor of Pediatrics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “The No. 1 goal is to get them through this, but as they do so to also be able to play and do things with their friends. That is what childhood is about and what makes people into full adults as they go on in their lives.”
At the age of eight, Elise Robinson’s cancer forced the removal of her right leg. After draining a putt on the practice green and drawing cheers throughout, it was evident the cancer had not removed the now-nine-year-old’s spirit and resolve.
“It's such a great thing,” said Elise’s mother, Jennifer. “When people come here, it means they have chosen to give of their time and effort to come cheer up our kids. It means they care.”
“Since 80 percent of these children will be cured, we want to make sure they are ready for adult life,” said Schwartz. “For the ones who are not cured, we want to make sure every bit of life is as wonderful as we can make it. All this makes a big difference.”
David Billeck said Damon had been looking forward to Wednesday’s event since last week. That’s the thing about hope in a place where the difference between recovery and loss is a fine line. Where assurances are a rare commodity, something to look forward to lends to the priceless feeling of normal.
“I think this is a fabulous thing for them because it puts some normalcy in their lives,” said Tiffany Stroud, wife of TOUR player Chris Stroud. “These kids are obviously going through a lot and having a tough time, so for them to just be able to have some fun is great.”
“When you're going through cancer treatments knowing that people care about you, it helps lift you up and get you through those really bad times,” said Robinson. “So, events like this mean everything.”
After completing his first drawing on the pin flag, Damon Billeck, aka Captain America, turned his attention away from his colorful depiction of the superhero’s shield and saw an open space on the flag for additional art. Methodically, he slowly wrote the word “CANCER” in big, black letters. He then took a red Sharpie and dragged a thick and convincing line through the heart of the word. For a time, he stared, contemplating his work.
Again, he was pleased with what he saw.
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