Can Being a Tennis Player Make You a Better Cancer Patient?

Me at Forrest Hills, 1983.

The mind can really wander when you have free time on your hands! While waiting for my monthly Waldenstrom’s blood check at City of Hope and watching Wimbledon on television, I was remembering back when I first started playing tennis against my Mom -- at the age of ten. Eventually, I started beating my Mom, and I moved up to the courts filled with mostly college players.

Then, I would find my “real” opponent – the wall.

I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that we racked up thousands of matches against each other. The wall was an amazing buddy -- it taught me stamina, persistence and patience. All of those qualities would come in handy later as a cancer patient. 

Tennis, the ​Military and the World

I played for high school and junior college, and lacking funding, I joined the military. Here I found my niche in life. Not only did the military give me a job and two degrees, but I was also able to play tennis in many different places: CoCo Beach -- rough! -- Boston, Biloxi, Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles -- and Germany.

I was the #1 tennis player in the entire Navy, Air Force, and Army when I was overseas. I flew to Austria to play tennis, then Spain, then England. I am grateful to the military for letting me play on their “team” for 20 years; I got to enjoy and meet many people.

In between, I actually did work.

I worked at an Air Traffic Control radar center before getting my scholarship at Arizona State University. Arizona was a wonderful place to study and to play tennis. It was very hot, but I was still young, so I enjoyed it. In Boston, I loved the different seasons. I played tennis indoors, and in the summer and fall, I played in the beautiful scenic northeast.

After my degree, I became a computer analyst and also an avid tennis tournament player. And I loved every second of it. 

Surgeries and Tournaments

Of all things, my right knee became a problem – so I had my first of 3 surgeries on my right knee. My tennis habit became more passive than participatory; I watched every tournament on television. How I have loved to see the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Since I couldn’t play, I could watch. Where most families went crazy with football and baseball, my family watched tennis. Perhaps it's more accurate to say I watched tennis obsessively and my family became fans by extension!

Sports and My Mindset

Last year, I found out that I had Waldenstrom’s – a rare and serious non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I had no idea of what I was in for.

I believe sports helped me to get in the right mindset to win the “match” against the disease. I never missed an appointment, but more importantly, I knew I would win. I visualized like I used to do in tennis: me beating the opponent, and at the end, reaching for the trophy! Visualizing is a wonderful tool to use in sports and cancer. I also found that watching winners made me a better warrior in my fight against cancer.


Was I scared about cancer? Of course! I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. But I had faith -- faith that I would prevail, just like when I played a new opponent in a tennis tournament. You don’t go out saying, “I’m going to lose, I just know it!”  Of course not!

Make no mistake -- cancer is far more dangerous than any player in a tennis match. I will never turn my back on it. It is a deadly opponent. Always have a positive attitude and always arrive prepared. No one is really 'prepared’ for cancer, but I do think even watching tennis today keeps me motivated -- and always looking for the best player to win.

Sports is great because it’s a puzzle – who will win?  Will the elements win out -- like wind, sun, the cold -- or will fear take over the person who simply cannot beat the opponent?

The Search for Victory

Although I can no longer play tennis, I love to watch and in this way, I am still involved in the sport. I would love someday to visit Paris, France and see the French Open. Maybe someday I will. 

As a cancer patient, I am not in remission. I guess you could say I am still fighting. But as a competitor, I cannot give up. I ‘visualize’ good news walking up to my doctor’s office on my monthly check-up. “We have found a cure for Waldenstrom’s!”, he tells me in my dreams.

No, Waldenstrom’s is not a game or friendly match like tennis. But much like a game, my visualization has potential to become real, and I hope to see this happen soon.

For me, the search for victory is as important as the end result itself. I am hopeful that my resilience will pay off and that my brain and body can work as doubles partners to finally knock our opponent off the court. 

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