Sunday, 20 May 2018

'As I was recovering from breast cancer, the thought of being able to play golf again kept me going'

'As I was recovering from breast cancer, the thought of being able to play golf again kept me going'

A WOMAN who took up golf after beating breast cancer has won seven trophies in less than a year and says the sport has changed her life.

Gay Bentley-Coleman joined Henley Golf Club’s academy programme in early 2014, about six months after completing a course of radiotherapy. She had already undergone a mastectomy and four months of chemotherapy.

Mrs Bentley-Coleman, 58, from Hambleden, found she had an aptitude for the game after taking lessons with Mark Howell, the club’s head professional, and coach James Prince.

She took a break from the sport to undergo reconstructive surgery before joining as a full member of the club in July 2015.

Since then she has reduced her handicap from 36 to 25, which earned her the trophy for most improved player at the club’s recent annual meeting.

She also won the Bronze Lady award for the best four net medal scores during the last season in the club’s bronze division, which is for players with a handicap between 21 and 36.

Mrs Bentley-Coleman was also presented with the Bronze Birdie Tree award for most birdies in her division, the England Women’s Golf Medal for the best four net scores in England Golf qualifying competitions and the Rosapenny Trophy, which she shared with Jacqui McCourt, for her performance in the club’s annual ladies’ double knockout tournament.

All this on top of being crowned ladies’ champion at the club’s captain’s day and winning the president’s prize last summer.

Mrs Bentley-Coleman said: “I knew I’d won something because people kept checking that I was going to attend the meeting but I didn’t realise just how well I’d done.

“They keep computer records of your performance over time but I hadn’t been following it closely so I had no idea.

“I’m very proud but it’s a sign of how much I’ve improved, not that I’m the best golfer in the club. My handicap gets taken into account and I think that’s why I’ve scored so highly.

“If your handicap is coming down quickly and you keep winning, you’re bound to do well. It almost feels a bit unfair but that’s the system and people seem to accept it.

“It has definitely made me more well-known in the club — people now joke that I’m the one who keeps winning everything!

Mrs Bentley-Coleman, who lives with her husband Jonathan, discovered a lump in her breast in October 2012, shortly after retiring as joint owner of a charity event management firm.

The couple own a second home on the Costa del Sol and she had planned to take up golf after having a couple of lessons in Spain that summer.

However, she put her plans on hold when doctors confirmed she had two growths in her left breast, one 6cm wide and the other almost 3cm, and that the disease had spread to her lymph glands.

Mrs Bentley-Coleman said: “I’ve always been fairly active — I played hockey at school and a bit of tennis as an adult, plus I’ve done a lot of cycling and hiking in the charity events business.

“I’d never done golf before but thought I’d give it a go after selling my business. I just liked the idea of it and it sounded like good exercise.

“But one morning when I was lying in bed, I felt a lump completely out of the blue. I’d actually missed my mammogram the previous year because I’d been away travelling, so it wasn’t picked up sooner.

“The doctor immediately sent me to a specialist clinic in High Wycombe and from the outset they were 80 per cent certain it was cancer. It wasn’t at a nice early stage, either — you hear about the high survival rates but those are usually quoted for women who catch it much earlier.

“It was all a whirlwind from there. I had my surgery in November, then started my chemotherapy in January. They have to wait a while for you to heal because it’s nasty stuff that really knocks your system out.”

As well as a mastectomy, she had the lymph nodes in her left armpit removed. Mrs Bentley-Coleman said: “I couldn’t believe it because I’d never thought of myself as the kind of person who would get cancer. I’d always kept myself fit and hadn’t been seriously ill before so I never thought it could happen to me.

“But I kept a sense of perspective about it — I remember watching a television programme about servicemen who’d been seriously wounded in Afghanistan and thinking I had nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things.

“I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to play golf again because having your lymph nodes removed can reduce your mobility in your arm. The nurse told me it shouldn’t be a problem and gave me some daily exercises which helped me to recover.”

Mrs Bentley-Coleman finished her treatment in the summer of 2013 and joined the club’s academy after a chance conversation with Alyson Warren, a friend who was a member, while shopping in Henley.

She said: “I told Alyson how I wanted to get back into golf and she said I should come down and speak to Mark. I’d never have had the courage to become a full member from the outset but I thought I could give lessons a go. There were all sorts of people in my group, men and women of all ages, and it was really nice and relaxing.

“It can be quite daunting to stand on the green and keep hitting the ball but having others in the same boat around you really takes the pressure off.

“I wanted to become a full member once I’d finished because I felt like I’d found a new challenge in life — I’d beaten breast cancer so the next objective was being able to play golf to a reasonable standard.”

Mrs Bentley-Coleman needed five operations to have her breast reconstructed. The first one, in November 2014, lasted eight hours.

By the following summer, she was fit enough to play golf again.

“Golf was a great motivator when I was having those operations,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to start practising again and the thought of it kept me going.”

Mrs Bentley-Coleman gradually improved her handicap as she took part in competitions.

During the forthcoming season she hopes to reduce it to 18, which would put her in the silver division, and hopes to compete in the Oxfordshire bronze county championships.

Mrs Bentley-Coleman said: “Golf has given me a completely new focus in life and I find it so inspiring.

“It’s also a great way to keep fit because you walk at least five miles during an 18-hole match, so doing that three times a week is a great fitness regime.

“Although I’m proud of how I’ve done, there’s a part of me that’s still dissatisfied and wants to improve my game more quickly.

“People keep reminding me that it takes time to progress and it’s often a case of going two steps forward and one step back.

“My husband has just joined the club as well — if he hadn’t, he’d have been a golfing widower!

“He was a member of Royal Wimbledon Golf Club for many years but he’d stopped going because it was so far away and he was only playing casually from time to time.

“He’s absolutely delighted to see me doing so well and it’s something we really enjoy doing together.

“The trouble with cancer is that it can come back — you’re never certain that it’s gone forever. You’ve just got to live life to the full and enjoy each day as it comes because you never know what’s around the corner.

“It might sound strange but golf has changed my life forever. I’ve made so many friends at the club and it has an extremely active ladies’ section, which some clubs struggle with.

“It has a very supportive atmosphere and that social side of things is very important.

“I really don’t know what I would do without golf and I would encourage anyone who’s even briefly considered trying it to have a go.”

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