Ruth Hagan made the trip to Tucson despite breast cancer treatment.
© Jennifer Pottheiser
By: Melissa Krueger, special to USTA.com
TUCSON, Ariz. — Ruthie Hagan has been playing tennis for four years. She is an avid member of the women's team that is representing the Southern section at the 3.5 Adult National Championships this weekend.
But until recently she was sitting on the sidelines, only able to watch her teammates. In August 2011, Hagan found a lump on her right breast, which turned out to be one of three cancerous tumors.
Since then, she has endured treatments and undergone a bilateral mastectomy in September 2011.
"At that time it was combo season," she said. "My team was in playoffs. I could not play in playoffs, but I went out there with my little bags and watched and cheered them on."
While Hagan had caught the cancer in its early stages, she quickly found out she had a Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2+) type of breast cancer, which is considered an aggressive form because it spreads so quickly.
As a result, Hagan had to undergo six rounds of chemotherapy and 17 rounds of an intravenous drug called Herceptin. She had her last round of Herceptin on Tuesday, right before she was due in Tucson for the USTA Nationals. She even pushed up her appointment, which was scheduled for Thursday, so that she could make the trip.
She felt it was important to be here with her team because, "This is a once in a lifetime (experience). You don't pass it up, to go to Nationals."
"And I feel so much better, but I wouldn't have missed it. Even if I wasn't playing, I would have come," she said.
The aggressive treatment has somewhat affected her game, though. Hagan was a singles player, but she has only played in doubles recently. The treatment she was on complicated the transfer of oxygen to her brain.
"I could hit the ball about three times, and then if I had to hit the ball a fourth time, I would have to sit down," she said. "It's an oxygen thing. It's just not going to the head, so you just start to feel lightheaded.
"And you're kind of in a fog, so playing at the net is like, OK, maybe I shouldn't be standing up here so close."
She has not yet gotten back to her singles game, and she continues to work toward that goal. This weekend, she played in a doubles match on Friday.
Since she wasn't going to miss Nationals — treatment or no treatment — she decided to make a weekend of it with her husband.
"We kind of thought this would just be a nice trip, and then it turned out that it was the end (of treatment). So we got to celebrate a little," she said.
It was duly important to be in Tucson for her team whether she would be able to play or not, as she felt the presence of her teammates when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her surgery, Emily Phillips, the team captain, organized a meal plan for Hagan.
"Basically, a tennis girlfriend brought me food every single night for probably two weeks," Hagan said. "It was very nice. I definitely consider them very good friends."
While she is glad this unfortunate experience is over, she could not stress enough how important it is to listen to your body. Two months prior to finding the lump, she was at the doctor for her yearly exam, which just goes to show how aggressive her form of cancer was.
"The lesson to learn is be sure to, if you feel anything, go to the doctor," she said.