As an aspiring grade school athlete, Turner Fordham wanted to make her mark on the basketball court and softball field.
Then, at age 12, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells. The disease weakened her to the point she could no longer play contact sports. So she turned to the sport her father, Louis Fordham, loves — golf.
Turner began taking classes from PGA professional Lowell Fritz at the Dalton Golf & Country Club. She excelled in the sport at Northwest Whitfield High School — and her cancer went into remission.
Then, in 2011, it came back during her freshman year at the University of Georgia. Now once again with a good prognosis and a year of chemotherapy treatments to go, Turner finds her story one of the subjects of a CBS Sports series from PGA of America featuring people whose lives have been transformed through golf.
Turner’s segment, “Golf’s Healing Powers,” will air on Sunday between 2 and 3 p.m. According to a press release, the “Beyond the Green” series is “a look at how golf has nurtured future leaders and transformed lives.” It features “the ambitious drive of youths and adults that overcame family struggles, illness and injury and discovered golf’s healing powers and path to a happier life,” the release states.
Louis Fordham said the producers learned about Turner’s story through an article she wrote for Golf Digest in 2010. He said a film crew came in March and spent about two-and-a-half days with the family while Turner was on leave from college where she is majoring in marketing.
Turner, who was part of Northwest’s Georgia High School Association Class 4A state championship victory at the Dalton Golf & Country Club in 2009, said one of golf’s major lessons is that the game — just as with other aspects of life — is more mental than physical. It taught her independence, how to push herself and how to handle emotional stress, she said. It also gave her an escape, something to look forward to.
Louis Fordham said his daughter has a good prognosis, but the disease is still taking its toll.
“Once a month, she gets treatment, and for about a week after that it’s not easy on her,” he said. “It’s like once a month she has the flu.”
Yet she’s in a sorority, is active in her church, and is making good grades, he said.
Fritz, a Georgia Golf Hall of Fame inductee and instructor at the country club, gave interviews for the CBS segment when the video team came to visit the Fordhams last month while Turner was in town for treatment at the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga. Fritz said Turner is among the “very special” students he’s worked with, and he hopes her story inspires others.
“You never heard her complain,” Fritz said. “None of us know what it’s like to be sick at 12 years old — and she was a hard worker. She learned how to love golf, and her story says how golf changed her life. I’m just glad I was a small part of that during that period of time.”
Turner acknowledged the chemo treatments can be very painful at times. The range of symptoms isn’t always predictable. Sometimes, she’ll wake up nauseated, other times with a headache or all-over body aches. The list goes on.
“The main thing that I want people to take away from my story is just that everyone has their own struggles in life,” she said. “It’s more how we overcome those struggles. You don’t have to let stuff like cancer and other events like this stop you from doing things that you love or finding new things that you love.”
What does help her get through those hard times? Golf plays a part, but Turner also credits her faith and relationship with God and the strong circle of friends and family and doctors and nurses who have supported her. In some ways, she said, her leukemia is a blessing.
“Cancer is never something that I would ever wish on anybody else, but I am thankful that it has happened to me because it has helped me in so many ways (like being able to do this story for CBS),” she said. “It has been rough, and it has been hard, but there have been so many blessings, and I have learned so much from it.”