By Christine Brennan
Almost every day at work, Arizona State associate head women’s golf coach Missy Farr-Kaye sees her sister. The statue of Heather Farr can be found near the 10th tee of the ASU golf course. Standing 5-foot-1, it’s life-size. The pose shows Heather following through with her driver, her long hair flowing in the wind.
“Everybody sees it and it seems very natural that it’s there, and yet it’s never routine to me,” Farr-Kaye said recently over the phone. “It’s always a reminder that she’s not here.”
Heather Farr, one of the nation’s finest amateur golfers before embarking on a promising career on the LPGA Tour, died in November 1993, after a very public and heroic 4 ½-year battle with breast cancer. She was 28 years old.
Four and a half years after her older sister died, Missy, then 30, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had both of her breasts removed. A decade later, in July 2008, she discovered a lump. A biopsy came back positive and she underwent chemotherapy.
Their mother, Sharon Farr, believes Heather’s long, painful and heroic fight with breast cancer allowed the family to know exactly what to do when Missy was diagnosed with the same disease.
“What all of us learned with Heather allowed Missy to survive,” Sharon told me during an interview in their Phoenix home in 1998. “One lived because of the other one. It’s almost like when one person gives another a kidney. Heather gave Missy her life.”
It’s a bittersweet thought that never leaves Missy’s mind.
“If I’m having a tough day, I’ll rely on her still as my hero and my role model in how to face challenges in life,” she said. “Rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t mention Heather to me. They’ll say: ‘I knew her,’ or ‘She touched my life,’ or ‘Your story is pretty incredible.’ “
Missy, Sharon and Missy’s oncology surgeon, Dr. Mark Runfola, will tell that story in a panel discussion during breakfast at the AWSM conference on Saturday, June 22.
Heather and Missy are Sharon and Jerry Farr’s only children. They grew up 2 ½ years apart, “two sides of the same coin,” Missy said.
To Missy, Heather was the typical older sister, “always plowing her way through the world ahead of you and then helping you as you came along.”
It certainly was that way on the golf course, where Missy followed Heather to Arizona State for her own wonderful career in amateur and collegiate golf. In a sad turn of events, it also was that way in life, one sister following the other into the frightening labyrinth of breast cancer.
“I thought of those stories of mothers who lost more than one son in World War II,” Sharon said. “This is a war, too, although we don’t think of breast cancer in that way. I gave one daughter. It’s enough. It’s enough.”
Having had cancer twice, Missy now says that “things are good.” But she is always cautious.
“I no longer live in that naive world thinking it won’t happen again,” she said. “I’m not a hypochondriac or a doomsday person but I’m a realist and have to be very vigilant about my health and what’s out there and what is going on and the next step if cancer comes back again. From that standpoint, I continue to take my lead from Heather in terms of taking care of myself and paying attention and not burying my head in the sand.
“I’ve also learned how to handle adversity just as Heather did, with grace and dignity and perseverance and resilience and toughness. Sometimes I’m good at it and sometimes I’m not, but I still go back to how Heather handled it and try to use that in my daily life in coaching and with my children.”
Missy has three boys: 19, 15 and 9.
“My 19-year-old was going through a tough time, so I said to him, ‘Do you think I’ve been through a lot?’”
He looked at his mother. “Well, yeah,” he said.
“Okay,” she said, “do you see me sitting around feeling sorry for myself?”
“Then I’m done with watching you feeling sorry for yourself,” she told him. “Pick yourself up and figure it out.”
“And he did — whatever it was at the time,” Missy said with a smile.
I’ve seen the statue of Heather Farr just once, in that visit with the Farrs in 1998 when Sharon took me to the golf course. That day, I watched her tenderly touch the statue, wiping away a smudge and laying her fingers gently on her daughter’s hair.
The mood changed when a foursome came to the 10th tee. Then, Sharon playfully leaned behind the petite statue for protection from a possible errant tee shot. She and I both laughed.
Thinking about that moment all these years later, it makes sense. The Farrs will never stop leaning on Heather.
More: Christine Brennan will moderate the discussion between the Farrs and Dr. Runfola on Saturday morning at AWSM in Arizona. | Full convention agenda