Less than 24 hours after undergoing a 5½-hour surgery for ovarian cancer in March of 2009, a groggy but lucid Barbara Douglas was approached in her hospital room by noted oncologist Dr. Michael Janicek.
Before the Phoenix surgeon could even give Douglas a progress report, she had an important question: Would her present condition prevent her from traveling to Bethlehem, Pa., for U.S. Women’s Open media day?
Janicek took one incredulous look at Douglas and giggled. “We’ll talk about it,” he said.
Some 45 days later, Douglas, the chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee, was at Saucon Valley Country Club for the media day. If she was hurting inside, she never outwardly showed it.
In fact, Douglas has kept virtually all of her Women’s Committee commitments as she continues to battle the disease that was detected a month after she was appointed chairman at the 2009 USGA Annual Meeting.
Her courage and inspiration are among the reasons why the Golf Writers Association of America has voted the Glendale, Ariz., resident the winner of the 2011 Ben Hogan Award. Given annually since 1954, the Hogan Award honors an individual who has continued to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness. Previous winners include U.S. Women’s Open champions Babe Zaharias (1954), Patty Berg (1975) and Pat Bradley (1991), and U.S. Open champions Ed Furgol (1955), Ken Venturi (1966), Gene Littler (1973), Lee Trevino (1980), Fuzzy Zoeller (1986 and Tom Watson (2010). Other notables to win the award include Casey Martin (1999), Jay Sigel (1984), Bruce Edwards (2004) and Judy Rankin (2007).
Douglas will receive the bronze statuette at the GWAA’s annual awards dinner on April 6 in Augusta, Ga.
“It just made my year,” said Douglas when GWAA secretary Melanie Hauser informed her of the honor by phone. “It just made my holiday. It’s the best gift I could have received. I’m still in awe of little old me [receiving this honor].”
No one affiliated with the Women’s Committee was surprised.
“I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with such an incredibly positive attitude,” said Roberta Bolduc, the Women’s Committee chairman from 2007-2008. “I think that’s what has driven her [the past two years]. Barbara just doesn’t back down from anything.
“She’s a role model for courage. We’re all in awe of her courage.”
Douglas discovered she had ovarian cancer when she became concerned that she couldn’t drop four pounds. Always a stickler for controlling her weight, Douglas made a trip to her regular physician. When the diagnosis came back as cancer, she was immediately referred to Janicek. Four days later, she underwent surgery. The cancer had also rapidly spread to her intestines.
“He had to do a lot of slicing and dicing,” said Douglas of the surgery.
Nevertheless, Douglas, who joined the Women’s Committee in 1993, was determined not to let cancer affect her lifestyle or her ability to lead the Women’s Committee. After all, she had patiently waited 15 years for this opportunity.
She worked closely with Janicek and his team to schedule chemotherapy sessions around championships and other Women’s Committee assignments.
Douglas has not missed a U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Women’s Amateur or the biennial Curtis Cup Match this past spring at Essex County Club outside of Boston. She also got the doctor’s approval to travel to Argentina for the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in October.
“That’s been her attitude, no matter how she feels, she just does it,” said current USGA Women’s Committee vice chairman Martha Lang. “We tell her not to wear herself out. And she’ll say, ‘Oh no, I’ll do it.’ She never gets tired.
“Far be it for anybody on our committee to complain about a hangnail or a hurt foot. I think everybody has taken her lead and run with it.”
Despite the chemotherapy and a multitude of drug protocols, Douglas still is fighting the deadly disease and other ailments. She incurred an infection during a trip to Golf House this past fall. And just before Christmas, she spent a week in the hospital with a collapsed lung that was unrelated to her cancer treatments.
The timetables for her chemotherapy treatments have varied. First, they were once every four weeks, then weekly for three weeks in a row. Through it all, Douglas has maintained her positive demeanor.
Douglas, whose two-year term as chairman ends next month at the Annual Meeting in Phoenix, gives Janicek and his team credit for creating the ideal treatment schedule.
“You have a choice, and I made this choice the day I woke up from my surgery,” said Douglas. “Who is going to control me? Is it going to be me or am I going to let cancer control me? I decided I would put my health in the hands of Dr. Janicek and I would take charge of the rest of my life. I would do everything I was supposed to do from a medical side. And at the same time, I would manage it around the things I wanted to do.
“I am not going to sit around and have a pity party. I had people tell me I am pushing too hard and I need to get more rest. There were times when I came home from one of those championships or a meeting and I would be on the couch for a day or two to get my strength back. [But] I waited a long time to get this position as chairman of the Women’s Committee and I wasn’t going to let this get in the way of doing that.”
David Shefter is a communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.