Commentary

Deanna knows Amy's cancer battle

Originally Published: June 10, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Dear Amy Mickelson,

You don't know Deanna Favre, but she knows all about you. Knows about your breast cancer. Knows that her husband, Brett, texted your husband, Phil, shortly after the diagnosis. Knows almost exactly what you and Phil are going through.

"My heart goes out to her, but I know what she's about to embark on," Deanna said a few days ago from her Hope Foundation office in Hattiesburg, Miss. "We adore them."

[+] EnlargeAmy Mickelson Fan
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesA fan shows her support for Amy Mickelson.

Amy, you're 37 and a mother of two daughters and a son. Deanna was 35 and a mother of two daughters when she learned of her breast cancer in October 2004. She had felt a lump, had told her doctor about it, but was assured it was probably just a cyst. It wasn't. A mammogram (done at her insistence) revealed the cancer.

"You know how women are," Deanna said. "I always tend to want to take care of everyone else. At first I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, Brett's right in the middle of football season,' and I didn't want it to affect him. I didn't want it to affect my girls. But I finally realized, I'm in a battle for my life. I had to take care of myself.

"And it's a tough battle, I'm not going to lie."

Amy, you're tough. You survived the difficult delivery of your son, Evan, a delivery in which complications threatened your life. You've handled the occasional criticism of your husband's play with grace, humor and that halogen-headlight smile of yours. But nobody has ever confused that smile with weakness. You and Phil are a team. You've got his back, he's got yours.

Mickelson She has a quality about her that not many people have. I know how lucky I am to be able to be married to her because I see it every day. She's like that every day. We've been together 16 years and I am so lucky to be married to her. She has made my life so fulfilling and enriching.

-- Phil Mickelson on his wife, Amy

"She has a quality about her that not many people have," Phil said here at the St. Jude Classic on Wednesday. He said it with reddened, misty eyes. "I know how lucky I am to be able to be married to her because I see it every day. She's like that every day. We've been together 16 years and I am so lucky to be married to her. She has made my life so fulfilling and enriching."

Weird. Phil's PR guy had warned the media here that your husband "absolutely" wouldn't talk about you and your condition. But something happened. He began with a brief, heartfelt thank you to his fellow PGA Tour players and their wives for their support and it somehow morphed into a 30-minute session of raw emotion.

"These last three weeks have been, uh, kind of an interesting thing," Phil said. "I've never felt this emotional. I've never been this emotional where if I'm driving alone or what have you, I'll just start crying."

Just so you know, he spoke about everything in the plural. "Our" treatment. "Our" illness. "We're going to go through this together," he said.

But then he admitted, "Well, we're scared, yeah. I think a lot of it is the unknown."

Deanna isn't aware of your treatment plan. Like the rest of us, she saw the news that "major surgery" -- that's how it was described in the family-approved news release -- will be performed soon (Phil mentioned July 1 as the start date of treatments). Perhaps radiation and/or chemotherapy also will be required. If so, Deanna can empathize with whatever fear, doubts and tears you might have.

"I always stress that you have to stay strong, focus on yourself," she said. "Don't be a victim. Be a fighter. Get through this part because the other side is so much better."

The radiation sapped Deanna of all her energy. The chemo made her physically sick. A laid-back person by nature, she became "very" emotional during those chemo treatments. Her hair fell out. Some of her friends would come by the house and treat her as if she were dying. They had it all wrong. Deanna was fighting to live.

"I lost my hair," she said. "I was going to be wearing a wig. But you just realize when you get to that point, none of that stuff matters. What mattered is the strength that other people gained by seeing what I was going through."

And the strength Deanna gained by seeing what other women with breast cancer were going through. See, Amy, you and Deanna are members of a sorority of sorts. "A kinship" is how Deanna put it. It is a shared experience, this breast cancer, except that you and Deanna have had your illnesses -- and those battles -- made public.

Deanna was reluctant at first to turn her private illness into something public -- specifically, an opportunity to help other women who might have been hesitant to get a mammogram, who were terrified by the chemo and radiation, who simply felt alone.

Deanna Favre I would love to be a sounding board if she needs me. Anything she needed. Just talk … whatever. Whatever she needs, I'd be there for her.

-- Deanna Favre

"I know for her, she's in the public eye, too," Deanna said about you. "There can be great things she can do if she chooses. You never know."

And if not, Deanna said, that's OK. Each person handles this in her own way.

Brett has met Phil, but Deanna has never met you. Phil has Brett's cell number, so feel free to call, Amy. Anytime, anywhere.

"I would love to be a sounding board if she needs me," Deanna said. "Anything she needed. Just talk … whatever. Whatever she needs, I'd be there for her."

Deanna isn't the first person to reach out to you. She won't be the last. ABC's Robin Roberts and Judy Rankin, as well as Sarah Strange (wife of two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Strange) -- all breast cancer survivors -- have called. Like Deanna said, it's a kinship.

Amy, she's not kidding about life on the other side of those treatments and surgery. Deanna's hair grew back. She put away the wigs. She discovered much about her inner strength and about perspective. She put a bear hug on her family.

If all goes as expected, Deanna will celebrate her 5-year cancer-free anniversary -- a biggie for breast cancer survivors -- in less than four months. And just a few days ago she competed in the Heatwave Classic Triathlon in Ridgeland, Miss., only a few hours away from her home in Hattiesburg. She finished the half-mile swim, 24½-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run in 2 hours, 59 minutes and 16 seconds -- ninth in her 40-44 age group.

"Look at me, I'm doing triathlons," Deanna said. "So there's light at the end of the tunnel."

Light and friends, Amy. Light and friends.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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