Charlie Rymer wasn’t sure he could swing a golf club with that port imbedded in his chest near his collarbone. Not to mention, the chemotherapy he delivered into his body made his hands shake so badly he joked that he might take a divot with his putter.
But last Wednesday, he was hitting balls and getting ready for a member-guest – barely four months after doctors had resected a foot of his colon and 14 days after ringing the bell at MD Anderson in Houston to signal his last infusion of those life- saving drugs.
“There’s no chance I can break 85, but I’m going to be out there with my buddies, having a good time and enjoying every minute of it,” Rymer said.
The last two years haven’t been much fun for the former PGA TOUR pro turned broadcaster, though, after doctors discovered a polyp during a routine colonoscopy.
At first, doctors decided to monitor it. But after six months, and then three more months, his physician was still concerned. So Rymer went to a specialist who twice performed an advanced polypectomy in hopes of avoiding the resection. Neither was successful.
So, Rymer had the right hemicolectomy on March 10 and 12 inches of his colon were removed. All the previous biopsies had revealed no cancer but when the pathology was done on the full section the news was not good.
Rymer had stage 3 colon cancer. And the cancer had spread to the 54-year-old’s lymph nodes.
“And I’m like, what? I had no idea that this was coming,” he recalls. “I was just expecting, the surgery was successful. You’re good to go. You don’t have to worry about this.”
Within six weeks, Rymer had started chemotherapy at MD Anderson. He’d have the infusion, which generally lasted three hours, and then began a two-week regimen of chemo by pill, four of them, twice a day. And that didn’t count the drugs he was prescribed for the side effects – nausea, anxiety, insomnia – that made Rymer feel like a “walking pharmacist.” Mercifully, he was able to take a week off before starting the process again.
After four cycles of the dual chemotherapy, Rymer is cancer-free and now in surveillance mode where he’ll undergo body scans every six months and advanced blood work every three. He says the highest chance of recurrence is in the first year.
“And because I’ve had the surgery — surgery alone gave me about a 50% chance of recurrence in year one and the chemo reduces that to about a 25% chance of recurrence in year one,” Rymer says. “Year two, that’s halved. Year three, it’s halved.
“So, if you get through the first three years, you’re good to go without getting any further treatment. … If it does come back, they say it’ll come back somewhere other than my colon, but … we can get after that early. So, I hope I don’t have to go down that road, but that’s sort of what the situation is.”
Rymer had kept his diagnosis relatively private, the news mostly confined to family and friends. When he felt well enough, he continued his work as an ambassador for Myrtle Beach golf and as executive vice president of McLemore Club, a resort in northern Georgia. He was also able to film parts of the second season of “The Charlie Rymer Golf Show” on ESPN2 during his off weeks from the chemo. He did discuss his cancer struggle on one episode, but it hasn’t aired yet.
When he finished his last chemotherapy treatment on June 6, though, Rymer decided to tweet a video of him ringing the bell. The reaction was swift, and a little overwhelming. The tweet got more than 7,000 likes and 433 comments, many from people asking about his treatment – and most importantly telling Rymer they were scheduling their colonoscopy immediately.