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CLINE: Grissom gives voice to fight against cancer

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Chip Grissom speaks prior to the start of the Tournament of Hope on Monday at Berkeley Hills Country Club in Duluth. Grissom, a cancer survivor, was the 2012 honoree for the tournament.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Chip Grissom speaks prior to the start of the Tournament of Hope on Monday at Berkeley Hills Country Club in Duluth. Grissom, a cancer survivor, was the 2012 honoree for the tournament.

DULUTH -- You don't usually play in a golf tournament for the oratory, but Monday's Tournament of Hope to benefit the American Cancer Society featured a little of both. And left me wishing Chip Grissom could speak at more events I attend.

Grissom was the featured honoree of the tournament, which prides itself on raising awareness as well as money to fight cancer. Hole signs situated throughout the course reminded golfers about cancer facts and different ways the American Cancer Society can help individuals battling the disease. The signs were great, but cardboard couldn't hold a candle to the type of heartfelt, down-to-earth speech Grissom gave about his battle with cancer.

Grissom recounted his ordeal, beginning with "the three worst words you can hear -- 'You have cancer.'" and continued to tell of how faith, family and friends ("in that order," he said) helped him overcome stage 4 cancer at the base of his tongue. From the start he learned there is no explanation for why such things happen -- the fact that the type of cancer he had is commonly found in smokers, and he has never smoked helped prove that -- and throughout the battle he was reminded of the importance of positive thinking and the toll any sickness also takes on the people caring for you.

Over a two-year period Grissom, an Alpharetta resident and the CEO of Pro Drivers, underwent five surgeries in addition to radiation and chemotherapy. In addition to losing 65 pounds (and having to use a feeding tube) he also lost his voice, becoming proficient with an etch-a-sketch (sometimes using two at once) to communicate with his family. But on Monday his voice came through nicely, his words making an impact, especially with those who have also known his battle.

My playing partner, Ken Jackson, said he got choked up hearing Grissom recall a fight Jackson, himself a fellow survivor of the same type of cancer, had been through. But hopefully those of us in the crowd lucky enough to not have had cancer took heart as well, heeding Grissom's suggestions about getting check-ups and listening to your body.

During this speech, Grissom said he would feel like he'd done his job if just one person was affected by his talk. As a member of the tournament committee, I can tell you we feel the same way. We want everyone to enjoy a great day of golf while helping ACS raise money to fight cancer, but more than that we want to make participants aware of the disease, warning signs to look for and help that can be offered if it is ever needed.

Grissom ended his talk by saying that you have to have a fighter's mentality after learning you have cancer. And his mentality translates to other situations as well. "When you learn you have cancer," he said, "don't say: 'Game over.' Say: 'Game on.'"

The plaque Grissom walked away with after Monday's round at Berkeley Hills Country Club suggests he's a good golfer. But the speech he gave is proof he's a low-handicapper in that department as well.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.