An ending to a season is often abrupt, unexpected or surprising. For Saranlak Tumfong, the way this 2019-20 season — and her collegiate career — ended was all three and more.
A senior from Chang Mai, Thailand, Saranlak (Sara) Tumfong came to The University of Toledo sight unseen. Her first three years on campus, like for many others, were filled with becoming a great teammate, adjusting to college life, getting a strong start to her golf career, and earning a reputation as a top-notch student.
Each season comes with anticipation, plans and goals. Sara looked forward to her senior season in a very different way, with blooming possibilities, higher goals for herself, and vision to continue great team chemistry. Injuries and illnesses are always a concern, but you learn to adjust and then put healing first when they do come. However, when major disruptions to our life happen, we aren’t usually prepared.
No one could be prepared for what happened to Sara, who was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Cancer is a punch in the gut to anyone. Cancer for a 22-year-old in her last semester of college is like someone punching you in the gut over and over again.
Sunday, March 1, in Panama City, Fla. was just like any tournament day. Wake-up call, breakfast with the team, and off to the course. Or so I had planned. At breakfast, Sara asked me about some strange bruising she noticed inside her mouth. She also had been noticing some bruising on her arms and legs and wasn’t able to remember where they came from. She didn’t have any other symptoms and wanted to go ahead and play. After consulting with our trainer, all decided to monitor the situation, and she teed it up. She played like any other round, with no other symptoms, and we packed up to come home. After the flight, the bruising increased on her legs. On March 2, she visited with the UToledo medical staff. It was determined that she is allergic to aspirin and would need to follow up with additional tests. It sounded like great news, a minor thing that could easily be avoided going forward. The overall feel was crisis averted, let’s move on.
Unfortunately, the final test results came in, and they weren’t what anyone was expecting. Sara was immediately called in and taken to the hospital for more testing, consultations and confirmation of diagnosis. When the doctor starts the diagnosis with a “C,” you find it hard to breathe at all and your mind goes blank.
Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow that releases immature white blood cells into the body, preventing the release of healthy white blood cells. It also impacts red blood cells and platelets, causing severe bruising and bleeding. It requires a minimum of 30 to 45 days of hospitalization with chemotherapy treatments, a battery of tests, and a load of antivirals and antibiotics — not to mention the many side effects associated with cancer treatment.
We love this girl as we would love a sister. Her smile, compassion and leadership are infectious. She is absolutely a person you want to be around and enjoy life with. She was on track to have the best season of her collegiate career. She is a leader on our team, not just on the course, but off of it as well. Others look to her for guidance in life. She had her sights set on graduation this spring, and, like most 22-year-olds, was trying to determine what was next — art, media or golf. Now her focus is on fighting for her life.
We share her story as one of hope and strength. Sara and our whole team have shown strength beyond their years through our trials this season. Her prognosis is hopeful. However, she is facing a long journey ahead.
Many have asked how they can support Sara through this journey. Encouragement, emotional support and sharing your energy is what she needs. Sara can be found on social media @saranlak.t on Instagram.
Coluccio is the UToledo women’s golf coach.