Martin Dempster: Heather MacRae’s response to cancer is inspirational

Heather MacRae with the  Women's PGA Professional Championship trophy. Picture: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty
Heather MacRae with the Women's PGA Professional Championship trophy. Picture: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty
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Heather MacRae has never been scared to face a challenge head on, having first shown us that a decade ago when she clearly relished the chance to take on her male counterparts at Gleneagles as she became only the second female to play in the Scottish PGA Championship.

I remember thinking then that the Dunblane woman was a tough cookie, and that has certainly been confirmed by MacRae’s attitude since being diagnosed with cervical cancer in March at a time in her life, ironically, when she had never felt both fitter and stronger.

The 35-year-old will undergo surgery on Friday week, having had numerous biopsies over the past couple of months after her world was turned upside down. But she is using her beloved golf to stop herself from fretting about what lies ahead.

Last Friday, MacRae won the WPGA Championship over two rounds at Trentham in Stoke-on-Trent. She has now moved on to Newmachar for the Northern Open on the Tartan Tour for the next two days and next week is playing in the Scottish Par 3 Championship at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre in Aberdeen.

“It’s been good to have something to focus on and practise for in between appointments, biopsies, etc,” acknowledged MacRae. “It has given me something else to think about, which is really good because it has been a tough time for me, my family and close friends as I had no symptoms, so it is difficult to understand how this can be happening to me.”

It was a massive shock to everyone she had come across in the golfing world, hence the outpouring of genuine warmth that greeted MacRae’s decision to continue to play competitively for the time being vindicated as she dug deep over two rounds in the one day to regain the WPGA Championship.

Her posts about that triumph, which has earned her a place in the team that will represent Great Britain and Ireland in the inaugural WPGA Cup in Texas later in the year, sent her social media channels into meltdown, with Judy Murray, a fellow Dunblane native, of course, being among those to heap praise on the former British Women’s Stroke-Play champion and a two-time winner on the LET’s Access Series.

“It’s been pretty manic, but I think it is sinking in now,” admitted MacRae as she enjoyed a deserved gin and tonic on Saturday evening. “Obviously I’ve won it before but, when you think of everything else that is going on for me at the moment, it is quite an achievement.

“Twitter and Facebook has been mad. One of my tweets has been seen 110,000 times –that’s just bonkers. I think a lot of people see that I like what I do and, despite being fit and healthy, this happens and it shows that it can happen to anybody.

“The last few months have put everything in perspective. I’m still determined, want to hit good shots and get frustrated when I don’t. But I don’t feel nervous playing golf after waiting for the results of medical tests and things like that.”

Golf, alas, will be off the agenda for a spell. “The recovery time from the surgery is eight weeks, so June and July are not going to be great, but at least I have the WPGA Cup to look forward to in October, which is great as that was my main goal this year.” she said.

“My dad had already said he wanted to go out to the PGA Cup if I qualified and he definitely will. Hopefully my sister will be able to come out, too.

“We have always been a close family and I feel me being strong probably helps them. I feel I have a little bit of control of what is happening at the moment, but it is much harder for them. When I spoke to them all after my win on Friday, it was amazing.”

As was the general reaction to her achievement, which, for me, was summed up perfectly by one of her fellow PGA professionals. “What an advert for golf, the PGA and life itself,” wrote Alan Tait, a well-kent face in Scottish golfing circles, on social media. “Her attitude has been amazing. Sometimes, fortune really does favour the brave.”

Well said big chap and she deserves all the praise coming her way from others who have already played a part in keeping up her spirits.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve had from so many people,” admitted MacRae. “It has come from friends and family, the golfing world and people I’ve never met before. It’s helped me a lot and kept me as strong as I have been.”

What an incredibly inspiring individual.