A Player You Should Know - MWGA Player Profile

IT'S JUST A GAME....

Janis Clemens of Sedalia is a golfer.  You watch her stripe tee shots down the middle of the fairway, hit most greens and sink putts from everywhere.  Her smile is constant and infectious.  She has won many club championships and has come close in state tournaments.  Janis has a consistent game with a handicap of 5.0.  In 2011 she played for Missouri in the USGA Women’s State Team Championship. She’s looking forward to playing in the MWGA Mid Amateur Championship at The Country Club of Missouri this week.   But this year, it’s been different for Janis. 

It started last November with a toothache.  Dr. Nohaud Azan in her hometown of Sedalia suggested that she might have a nerve problem, but he sent her to see a dental specialist.  After several extractions to rule out the cause, the pain remained, and became constant.  It grew to extreme, sporadic, sudden burning and shock-like face pain that eventually became constant. 

An MRI was negative.  Her symptoms became more and more severe.  Her symptoms helped doctors diagnose Trigeminal Neuralgia… The Suicide Disease.  She was initially placed on Tegretol which caused her to break out in full body hives.  After recovering that, she began Baclofen – the antispasmodic which needed to be tripled in dose before she began having any relief.  Lyrica and Tramadol help her sleep a few hours each night.

To see Janis in these months since her diagnosis, she is thinner and a little paler.  Her smile isn’t there like it once was because of the mouth guard she wears to help keep her jaw immobile.  A conversation with Janis reveals her struggle to speak and you see her wince from time to time.  The medications have reduced her pain level from a 10 to a 6, but that  small relief is coming at a price.

Her past vivaciousness is replaced by living in a haze.  Her hands shake.  Her balance isn’t stable, and she moves even slower.  The medications make her feel like she’s floating.  Many days she doesn’t want to wake up.  But she does… she gets up and goes through her day.  There’s no alternative for Janis, she has to.

The Suicide Disease isn’t winning, she’s says she’s no where near that point.  She hasn’t exhausted her treatment possibilities yet.  Her next doctor’s visit will be to a neurosurgeon to talk about the risky surgical procedure to relieve the pain.  Although the surgery has a high success rate, there are complications that are hard to ignore.  No one knows what causes trigeminal neuralgia.  They know it happens in women more than men, usually in their 50s… possibly caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve in the brainstem area.  Surgery has a good success rate, but there’s a risk of facial paralysis, numbness and a facial droop. 

Her biggest fear?  There’s a chance the pain might not go away or perhaps having a paralyzed face.  Going forward is a struggle, but she’s grateful for the support from her husband Rob, her family and her friends who call almost every day. 

How and why does a person with this much pain play golf?  At one point, her normal scores in the 70s ballooned to the 90s.  Her hands are numb, her balance is off and putting is the hardest part of the game for her.  Her natural athletic instinct has taken over though… “I don’t think about anything when I play.  Muscle memory is getting me through.  I have to focus on balance and my swing now and that takes my mind off the pain.  Golf is one of the things that is getting me through this.”

Her love of the game is remarkable.  She has resumed her good golf, shooting a 78-80 which was good enough to win the women’s Club Championship this weekend at Porto Cima.  Her hands still shake and she’s unsteady over a putt, but she doesn’t seem to mind if she misses one.

“It doesn’t matter if I shoot a 65 or 95, I’m just grateful to be out here playing. I can’t take this seriously, it’s just a game.  If I know I’m going to play, I know it’s going to be a good day.  There’s more important things than shooting a low number… it puts everything in perspective.  When you’re debilitated by anything, you become tunnel visioned.  I am grateful to get up every morning. I have my family and friends and I have golf.”

Janis Clemens will be playing in the MWGA Mid Amateur Championship at The Country Club of Missouri during July 22-23rd

If you would like to know more about Trigeminal Neuralgia, visit The Facial Pain Association website.