No one seems to know exactly when Jim McGee, Dale Harris, Don McKinney and Jim Nordquist became a regular golf foursome at The Dalles Country Club.
It happened too long ago.
“I think we were just put together one time, like any other foursome,” says McGee, the senior member of the group at age 85.
However it happened, the four have been playing the course together for decades, They’re all longtime members at the tidy, well-kept nine-hole layout just east of town on the old Columbia River Highway, where it seems they might enjoy zinging each other with stories and good-natured ribs as much as their golf game together. They’ve lived in the area for decades and raised their families here.
They’ve something else in common, too. All four men are either current or former patients at Mid-Columbia Medical Center’s Celilo Cancer Center. And while getting cancer is an experience they would have all gladly skipped, they’re grateful for having the innovative, highly rated care of Celilo’s skilled staff nearby.
“They’ve really treated me well,” says Harris. “It’s been everything you could want.”
Harris, 81, is on the mend from some intense radiation therapy at Celilo during the winter to reduce tumors in both lungs. And McGee, who has battled both prostate and bladder cancers during the last decade, is just as high on Celilo, too.
“They’ve got some great people there,” he says. “And I think I’ve been treated by everyone here at one time or another."
Cancer treatments have kept Harris and McGee off the golf course, but Harris recently felt well enough to start playing again, and McGee – who also receives kidney dialysis three days a week – is thinking about a comeback, too.
Jim McGee: He’s Been Through it All
McGee drives to the country club in a burgundy golf cart with a white top and a pair of Oregon State University stickers on the windshield – symbols of his loyalty to his alma mater. It’s a quick trip – the home where he lives with Jane, his wife of 63 years, is just a chip shot from the country club’s practice green.
A retired paper salesman for Crown Zellerbach, McGee has been a member of the golf club for 46 years. He once played to a 6 handicap, but said his advancing age and illnesses have pushed it higher.
Harris has another explanation.
“He’s always had a great swing,” Harris deadpans as he sits in the passenger seat of McGee’s cart on a sun-drenched afternoon. “He just doesn’t know how to play golf.”
McGee became a patient at Celilo in 2001, when he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation have kept that cancer at bay, but cancer was later found in his bladder, and when his kidneys failed, he started receiving dialysis.
“I’m hanging in there,” he says. “I think I’m ready for just about everything because I’ve already been through just about everything.”
Don McKinney: Quick to Laugh
McKinney, 76, is noticing that his hair, which he lost during his cancer treatment, is starting to grow back.
“I think I have three or four hairs up there now,” he says, rubbing the top of his head.
“You’ve always had three or four hairs,” McGee shoots back with a smile.
“Ought to make it easy for the barber,” McKinney responds.
A retired aluminum worker, McKinney and his wife of 48 years, Beverly, were long active in the Oregon Senior and Junior/Senior Golf Association and both still play. McKinney was part of a winning best-ball team recently.
After his cancer surgery and subsequent radiation, McKinney went to Celilo for three months to be checked for a recurrence. He says the staff at Celilo took their time and made sure he was cancer free.
“They told me they didn’t find anything,” he says.
He’s feeling well enough to go mushroom hunting and displays some large morel mushrooms he found in the Cascades foothills near Tygh Valley. “About the 4,000 foot level,” he says. “You have to know where to look for these.”
Jim Nordquist: The Youngster
About to turn 70, Nordquist is the “young kid” in the group, jokes Jim McGee.
A retired engineer in the aluminum business, Nordquist invested in farmland in Wasco and Sherman counties and two years ago purchased and completely renovated Pine Meadows Golf Course near Tygh Valley.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer, Nordquist was one of the first patients to be treated with Celilo’s Elekta Synergy linear accelerator – which combines computerized tomography (CT) with intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) to help the center’s specialists even more precisely and effectively deliver the advanced IMRT technology that has been available since Celilo opened.
Nordquist is cancer-free again and active in his business interests, which he shares with his wife of 42 years, Darlene.
Dale Harris: Saving on Haircuts
Side effects of radiation therapy affect people in different ways. In Harris’ case, despite an intense radiation regimen, his hair didn’t fall out – it just stopped growing.
“I haven’t had a haircut since February,” he says, doffing his cap to show his short, white hair. “Haven’t needed one.”
Harris operated a janitorial business in The Dalles before selling out and retiring two decades ago. He and his wife Bernice have been married for 58 years. He knew he was bouncing back from the debilitating effects of his radiation treatment when he was able to get out and work in his garden. And he was planning to get back onto the golf course.
As for his hair, even though he hasn’t picked up a razor in months, Harris’s face looks like he shaved just before coming to the golf course. But he’s encouraged. “I’m starting to feel a whisker or two coming in, so I think that’s a good sign,” he says.