– by Todd Keirstead
In June of 2014, the MacDonald family’s world turned upside down. Both Jill and her husband Jeff received cancer diagnoses just three days apart. Jeff was diagnosed with inoperable stage four colorectal cancer and Jill was diagnosed with bone cancer in her shinbone.
Sadly, after an 18-month battle, Jeff passed away leaving behind Jill and their three children. After her husband’s death, Jill was at the end of the line for her cancer treatment options in her hometown of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, so she decided to take a chance on treatment in the United States.
For nearly a year, Jill traveled to Michigan from her home every three weeks to take part in the clinical trial for Keytruda, a drug that is typically used to treat skin cancer but is now being used in clinical trials for bone cancer.
Unfortunately, in February of 2015, Jill had to have her leg amputated to rid her of cancer from the tumor in her knee. After the surgery, Jill had to work tirelessly through the physical and psychological trauma of losing her leg, to be the mother that her children once knew. Jill is a fighter and the elementary school teacher dug deep and has successfully learned to adapt to life after her amputation.
Jill had golfed a bit before she lost her leg, and once she got herself rehabilitated and received her prosthetic leg, she was ready to get back at it. The biggest motivating factor to her reclaiming the game was the persistence of two of her children. While Jill was gaining her independence back; adapting and learning new ways to do things, she would accompany two of her teenage children around the golf course in a power cart. It was after a round of golf one day that they asked her, “why wasn’t she playing,” as they wanted to play the game with their mother. It was knowing that her children wanted to play golf with her, and her desire to show them how to overcome adversity in the game of golf became the driving force in her recovery.
Golf has become a huge part of rebuilding Jill’s confidence and self-esteem. “Walking out to the first tee on the first day, I was so anxious and self-conscious, worried what people were going to think. But I hit probably the best shot I had ever hit, even to this day, and I was so proud of myself,” says Jill. “Getting back into golf is one of the best decisions I’ve made, to be able to push myself beyond my comfort zone.”
Getting back into golf encouraged Jill to pursue other sports. Her kids are avid skiers, and after a few lessons, she was able to make it down the practice hill without falling. “I burst into tears at the bottom. I was so proud of myself,” says Jill. “Everybody around me was crying. I couldn’t believe there were so many people there to help me do this.”
Jill has a list of things she wants to try now, from wheelchair basketball, sledge hockey, and she would also love to try curling. Her hope is that her kids see her putting herself out there and living her life. She takes pride in showing the people around her that anything can be done if you put your mind to it. Jill hopes through her journey other individuals with disabilities will become aware of all the opportunities, as she has seen firsthand how empowering it is to participate in sport and the tremendous positive impact it has had on her physical and mental health.
Through Jill’s passion for the sport of golf, she is currently serving on the Nova Scotia Golf Association’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is also on the Player Advisory Board for ParaGolf Canada for Atlantic Canada.
“ParaGolf Canada is so proud to have Jill on its Player Advisory Board. Jill has proven that when faced with so many difficult challenges, anyone can successfully overcome those challenges with sheer will and determination. Jill truly exemplifies what ParaGolf Canada is all about,” says Founder/CEO, Todd Keirstead. “Jill’s enthusiasm, desire, and commitment towards making the game accessible for everyone is really going to move the needle in Atlantic Canada. With the support and recourses from ParaGolf Canada, Jill MacDonald is going to be a gamechanger for a group that has been underrepresented for too long.”