Strength in numbers
Bart Bryant lost his wife Cathy to brain cancer in April, and family members are leaning on each other as they move forward
May 15, 2017
By Melanie Hauser , PGATOUR.COM
THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Sometimes it’s just not about the golf.
It’s not about contending or winning or even about a score. It’s not about perfect wedges that pick the ball softly off the fairway and send it dancing onto the green and spinning back toward the flag. It’s not about birdies or expectations or top 10s. And it’s definitely not about the paycheck.
Sometimes – even after decades playing at the highest levels of the game -- it’s just about being out there with old friends. About pulling a club out of the bag and feeling it in your hand. About not getting mad, but simply shaking your head at another chili-dip or chunk into the lake and laughing about it afterward.
Or, in Bart Bryant’s case, it’s about healing. And about making the game that’s been your life ever since you can remember as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and just moving forward.
Bryant understood that before he stepped off the plane in Houston two weeks ago. Before he walked back into a clubhouse where his life – his entire family’s life --was turned upside down a year ago.
He pauses as he points to the seat at the bar in the Insperity Championship players’ dining room. That’s where he was having breakfast with Kevin Sutherland a year ago to the day – Mother's Day 2016 -- when he got the phone call.
The phone call that changed everything.
He had spent the previous night at Memorial Hermann Hospital in The Woodlands with his wife Cathy, who had been admitted with severe nausea. Bryant withdrew from the final round and drove to the hospital where doctors confirmed what they had hinted at the night before. The nausea and headaches that had wracked Cathy’s body over the past few weeks were symptoms of a bigger issue.
The scans showed a stage 4 glioblastoma. An aggressive brain tumor.
"I was able to call a doctor friend in Orlando and literally, within 30 minutes, I had one of the top surgeons in Orlando calling me saying, 'Hey, If you can get her here, we’re going to have to get this tumor out and figure out what’s going on,' Bryant recalled, his voice wavering.
"I think we all kind of knew that day (what we faced)."
Cathy had the surgery a week later.
"With glioblastoma, stage 4, they’ll tell you right up front, they’ll remove everything they can see," Bart said. "But if you have stage 4, by the time they know you have it, they can’t get it all out. It’s just never possible, so what they do is get out all they can see. Then they go with the chemo and radiation to get all the things they couldn’t see."
It wasn’t enough.
Two weeks ago, Bart took his first steps toward the next phase of his golf career – one without Cathy by his side.
She battled that cancer for 11 months, before passing away April 5, 2017 with her family around her. The previous two months had been a time for family to celebrate with her, love her and grieve with Cathy, who was only 54. Her parents – W.B. and Martha (known as Nana) – had moved into the house to help Bart. It took all of them – as well as their daughters Kristen and Michelle – to care for Cathy and they rarely left the house.
"We did a lot of grieving (as a family) before she passed away," Bart said. "I think that’s part of the reason why I’m here this week. We grieved. We grieved with Cathy. When she passed away, it wasn’t wow, what is this? I had already seen it. I hoped to the very end, but I had already seen it. I knew what to expect. I researched it.
"We did a lot of talking about it. So when the time came, we weren’t overwhelmed. We were happy we were all with her. We had prepared and I think that helps us all a lot. Not that we’re not still grieving and we will for a while."
W.B. and Nana made the drive from Sulphur Springs Texas last week as they had for several years to watch Bart play at The Woodlands Country Club Tournament Course. Only this time, it was only the three of them.
"It was good for all three of us to be together and spend the time." Bart said. "We’ve always been close and had a great relationship. That was definitely one of the reasons why I came."
Bart is the first to admit his game wasn’t ready for this. How could it have been? He and Cathy had been inseparable since the cancer came back in February. He had finished the opening round of the Allianz Championship – his first tournament of the year -- when that call came. He withdrew and headed home.
Cathy’s doctors had done a good resection the previous May and a month later she was back in Houston at MD Anderson Cancer Center for chemo and radiation treatments.
"They go with the chemo and radiation to get all the things they couldn’t see," Bart said. "Unfortunately hers was pretty aggressive and even the radiation/chemo at the time we worked our way through that – and it worked well – we had another little spot. And once it’s multiforme in a couple places, it’s not long, it’s not good."
Cathy was doing well when Bart left for Allianz that Tuesday. She was having coffee and making breakfast. She had been having headaches again, but she was ok.
"When I got the call, it was a little bit of a shocker," he said. "But when I got home, I could tell I needed to be home. I knew it was the right call. And we went downhill really quick from the time I got home.
"She was probably in a wheelchair for good within two weeks after I got back. Couldn’t move her left side at all. The tumor just moved and encroached just enough to really start causing her issues."
Bart Bryant's wife Cathy was diagnosed with brain cancer on Mother's Day.— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) August 5, 2016
Tour wives gathered at the tee in support https://t.co/ojzEkxMRcw
The Bryant house was filled with people those last few months. Every day. All day.
The PGA TOUR Champions players and their wives had rallied around Cathy and Bart after the diagnosis and supported them at events throughout last season. They had a pink-shirt 'We Believe' day at the 3M Championship. They sent cards and a quilt with a big heart that said "You are loved."
Bart and Cathy prayed and believed. Their strong faith sustained them and Cathy opened up and shared that and her journey on her website – www.huggintherock.com.
"You pray and hope for the best,’" Bart said. "I firmly believe God performs miracles and if He wanted to heal her, he could. For some reason it didn’t happen. That’s ok. She was ok with it.
"She never questioned it, she never had any fear about it. She never felt cheated because she had somewhat of a short life by today’s standards. I won’t say she embraced it. She wanted to live. Her attitude was so extremely good and that made it easier for all of us. She was always positive, always every grateful for what everyone was doing for her.
"Our family was in the proper place where we could handle it. God had set us up for that and our faith could carry us through. But faith has always been a large part of our life.’"
"One thing the pastor said (at Cathy’s service) was, 'You certainly couldn’t threaten Cathy with heaven.' " And that was the truth."
Those last few months, Cathy laughed with her friends as they came and went with food, great conversation, prayers and love. There was seldom a quiet moment and Cathy loved it.
"Our front door was a revolving door," Bart chuckled. "But we finally came up with non-visiting hours. We had to get a nap in the afternoon. So we told them from 12 until 2 you can’t come to the house and Cathy can’t come out and play."
But the family stopped the visits about eight days before Cathy died.
"I think knowing that was coming and her just having such a great attitude and allowing us to grieve with her," Bart said. "We were able to do that too. In some ways, my girls were giving her permission (to let go) and saying, 'Mom, we’re going to be okay.' "
Bart hadn’t seen Tom Kite all week, but they ran into each other before Sunday’s final round. Kite lost his wife Christy to cancer in January 2015.
“I asked him if it gets easier,’’ Bart said. “He said it does, it just takes time.’’
Bart stayed busy for a few weeks after Cathy passed away, but then he started thinking about the future. He talked to Kristen and Michelle and they urged him to get back onto PGA TOUR Champions.
"If my girls had said, 'Hey Dad don’t go play, don’t play this year,' I’d have been fine," he said. "But everyone seemed to think, 'Dad, that’s what you do, that’s where you need to be.' "
During those last two months, Cathy had asked what Bart was doing about his game. Why wasn’t he heading out to play a tournament?
"I knew there weren’t going to be a lot of opportunities to be with her," he said, "so I didn’t think about golf, I didn’t care about golf ... She always wanted to be positive, so she’d say, 'You need to go play because that’s what you do. I’m going to be around.' "
"Of course, I knew better and I think, deep down inside, she did too. She was just trying to be nice, so she’d say go practice, go play. I actually told her, 'Hey, I’m a retired golfer.' I said, 'Until you get much, much better and until you can go out and follow me around and enjoy it with me, I’m retired.' She said, 'Really?' I said, 'Yes. Honey, until those two legs are healed and you can get out here and walk around with me, I won’t play another round of golf.' "
A week before the Insperity, Bart spent a little time with his coach. He played a bit. He was ready to take that first step. He knew his game wasn’t.
He wanted to get that first event out of the way before next week’s Regions Tradition – the first PGA TOUR Champions major of the year. He's in that field and the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship the following week.
“I wanted to see everybody and kind of put that behind me,’’ he said. “I knew my game wasn’t ready in any way, shape or form ... Of course, you always hope for the best, but a lot of my incentive was to be here and see all the guys so when I get to Birmingham, it’s kind of old news.’’
Bart shot 70-79-74 and tied for 67th. It could have been better, it could have been worse.
The bottom line, it was that first step.
"I knew I was going to play poorly," he said. "You hate to say that and jinx yourself, you don’t want to have bad self-thought because usually it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I knew I had nothing. But honestly, this wasn’t what this week was about.
"It wasn’t totally about golf. In some ways, it was a little closure with all the guys and just going through the process of that and maybe, golf-wise, seeing where I am, what I need to do to prepare next week."
And the future.
"Honestly, if I’m being 100-percent honest, my desire isn’t like what it was ... yet," he said. "It will come. And that may be part of the grieving process. Everything is less important. But until golf becomes a little more important, I’m probably not going to play as well.
"You need to have a sense of urgency and I have none at all right now. Usually when I get on the road, and I start playing in competition, the golfer inside me starts coming out and something clicks. You start wanting it. I’m kind of going through the motions, but I know that will change. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other and wait it out.’’
In time, it will be about the golf again.