Stewart Cink has 14 professional wins under his belt, including a 2009 victory at The Open Championship. But for him, no win in golf can compare to having Lisa, his wife of 24 years, by his side while he’s on the road.
In April of 2016, the Cinks were leveled by Lisa’s diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer. The disease had spread to her lymph nodes and required aggressive treatment consisting of nine rounds of chemotherapy administered through a port in her chest.
“First came the results of the biopsy, then for two weeks, it was this fog of horror,” Stewart told us a day before the start of the 2017 DEAN & DELUCA Invitational. “I remember going through all those days, and the bad news kept on coming.”
So, the 21-year PGA TOUR veteran easily stepped away from his clubs to be with Lisa in her most desperate time of need.
Now a year later, Lisa is still receiving treatment, but feels well enough to hit the PGA TOUR circuit with her love.
“Golf serves a lot of purposes right now. It’s a nice distraction, but also, I think it’s a good way to let people know how Lisa’s doing,” Stewart explained. “If they see my name on the list of players in the field, they know that she’s doing okay right now.”
The Budding Romance
Stewart and Lisa, both 44 years old, met in tenth-grade English class in Florence, Ala. She sat in the front row, and he parked himself in the desk right behind her.
“I flirted with her a lot and we just had a spark, but it was more of a friendship spark,” Stewart said. “We were best friends from early on all the way through high school. I did tell her when we were 15 that she was the one I was going to marry. We dated a little bit, but we weren’t mature enough for that yet. In fact, she was always the one who had the older boyfriend that was out of high school, which was so lame. My friends and I used to make fun of her for that. So, we stayed in the ‘friend zone,’ but just enough out of it that it was possible for us to date down the road.”
After high school, they parted ways. Stewart went off to Georgia Tech while Lisa chose to attend Auburn.
“When we were a part, it was apparent this was more than a friendship,” Stewart said.
He adored her “intense sweetness” and she loved the way he fully dives into life.
“She’s an easy person to love because she really loves other people,” he said.
Two years into their college education, Lisa transferred to Georgia Tech to be closer to Stewart, and at 20, they got married and had their first child, Connor. Two years after that, their second son, Reagan, was born.
As the couple’s kids grew up in Atlanta, it was Lisa who carried the heavy load at home while Stewart was away.
“She stayed at home basically raising the kids by herself for about 12 years as I was on the road, and it was a lot of stress on both of us,” Stewart said.
That’s why the Cinks decided once they became empty nesters, Lisa would pack her suitcase and make up for lost time with her husband by accompanying him to tournaments.
Then, the unthinkable crashed into their lives.
In It Together
It started when Lisa noticed something odd about her breast. It wasn’t a lump, but it just didn’t “feel right.” She had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy all in the same day.
A day later, the dreaded phone call came. It was invasive ductal carcinoma. While grappling with the news, they took immediate action. Stewart announced on Twitter he was stepping away from his sport, and the couple traveled to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
— Stewart Cink (@stewartcink) May 3, 2016
Doctors recommended a heavy dose of chemotherapy paired with two other medications to be injected into her port. She finished chemo in October, but continues to take the other drugs, and will be on hormone therapy indefinitely.
“She feels pretty good. Her vision has been affected, but her hair is growing back,” Stewart said. “She’s still dealing with a lot in not knowing what the future is going to hold. That’s the hardest part. She can deal with her stomach feeling queasy and achy joints, but the part that really wears people out is just not knowing. I don’t know how to handle it. She doesn’t either. But, we’re doing our best.”
And Stewart has learned some very important lessons from Lisa along the way.
“Seeing the way she’s handled it, she’s taught me that you can be brutally scared, but you can also be brave and determined all at once. You don’t have to be just one thing in a given moment. I’ve learned not to be afraid of any of those emotions.”
With that outlook, Stewart returned to golf action about a month after Lisa was diagnosed. Now that both children are out of the house, if she’s feeling well, she travels with him. If she isn’t, Stewart doesn’t compete.
“She’s been to almost every tournament I’ve been to since this time last year,” Stewart said. “I don’t know my schedule that far in advance anymore because I try to plan around her checkups. If she has a checkup and it’s pretty good news, then we know we can go and plan out for 12 weeks until she has another one.”
Living Beyond Golf
Stewart is all business on the course, but when he’s off, he makes the most of his time with Lisa. They fit in board games, like Bananagrams, the night before weekend play begins. In January, Stewart had one day off in between the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Career Builder in California, so the couple went to Utah for a day of skiing.
In a way, their life is on a more fulfilling track now, according to Stewart.
“Before the diagnosis, we had the same kinds of problems everyone else has, but we were pretty self-centered, and I think this called us to really examine ourselves and find out what we really wanted out of life,” he explained. “It’s really sweetened our relationship; it’s sweetened our faith. It feels more like a gift than it ever did before. I wish I could go back and apply the way we are now to the way we were back then because I feel like we sort of missed out on a lot of years.”
As for Stewart’s golf, at the time of this writing, he’s tied for fourth at 6-under heading into the final day of play at the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational in Fort Worth, TX. Of course, Lisa is right there with him, where the heat index on Saturday was 108.
Regardless of how Stewart finishes in North Texas, they know the best way to handle life’s scorching situations is to hang in there — together.