September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

FOR YEARS IT SEEMED TERRY-JO Myers was just about the unluckiest player on the women’s professional golf tour. Once, she ran off the course during a tournament, telling officials she’d hurt her wrist. Another time, she was rushed in mid-round to the locker room, citing back pain. Five or six times, she simply dropped out of tournaments. Always, her excuses were good ones—and, always, they weren’t quite true.

Divulging the real reason she had to get off the golf course was too difficult: Myers, 35, was suffering from an excruciating disease called interstitial cystitis, a chronic inflammation of the bladder wall that forced her to go to the bathroom as often as every 30 minutes and has no known cause or cure. Myers’s struggle with IC—a disease that affects at least 450,000 Americans, 90 percent of them women—kept her from sleeping for more than 40 minutes at a time, strained her marriage to paramedic Gary Mundy, 38, and made her so weary she couldn’t even play with her daughter Taylor, now 8. “The best I could do was lay on the couch and tell her how tired I was,” says Myers. “Everything revolved around Mom constantly going to the bathroom.”

The disease also allowed her to win just one of the 253 tournaments she played in during her first 11 years on the LPGA Tour. Perhaps worst of all, Myers felt she had to hide the truth from friends and fellow golfers. “I didn’t have the guts,” she says, “to stand up and tell someone.” That frustration drove her to the brink of suicide one awful night in 1992. Says Myers: “I didn’t wrant to live anymore.”

But five years ago, Myers met urologist Dr. William Evans, who altered her diet, then put her on a drug called Elmiron. The results have been dramatic. “I have no symptoms now,” says Myers, who can go four or five hours between bathroom visits. In February she won her first title in nine years, the Los Angeles Women’s Championship. Myers is now the national spokesperson for the Interstitial Cystitis Association and has testified before Congress in an attempt to raise awareness about the disease. “And that’s where I am today, a strong person,” she says, “not that meek little mouse who couldn’t speak up.”

Before IC, Myers was anything but meek. The younger child of banker Glenn Myers and his wife, Beverley, Myers tagged along as her parents practiced at a golf range near their home in Fort Myers, Fla. She won a slew of junior events before turning pro after graduating from Florida International University in 1984—a year after her first bout of IC. “It felt like a bladder infection, no big deal,” she says. But when antibiotics didn’t cure it, a cystoscopic exam revealed the IC. Doctors could offer no treatment.

The pain—a stinging sensation she compares to hundreds of paper cuts—destroyed Myers’s concentration on the golf course. It also wreaked havoc in the Fort Myers home she shares with Mundy, whom she married in 1987. “There were good days and bad days,” he says. “It created arguments and stressful situations.” Admits Myers: “I put him through a lot of verbal abuse. I was crying out in pain, and I ended up taking my frustrations out on him.”

That stress nearly destroyed her in 1992. After playing in a charity event in Tampa—during which she left the course several times but didn’t tell her playing partner the real reason why—Myers came home feeling angry and distraught. “I walked into the kitchen around 3 a.m. and took out a paring knife,” she recalls. “I wasn’t going to do it anymore.” Only a visit to her daughter’s bedroom changed her mind. “I couldn’t leave her without a mother,” says Myers. “It wasn’t her fault.”

Making it through that night was a turning point. “I decided, ‘If I’m going to live,’ ” she says, ” ‘I’m going to educate myself on this disease and take control of it.’ ” Days later, at another charity event, she confided to a doctor that she had IC and asked if he knew a good urologist. He referred her to Evans, who, in 1994, adjusted her diet, eliminating acidic, spicy foods. “I still went to the bathroom just as much,” she says, “but I didn’t have that sharp, sharp pain.” A year later, Evans put Myers on Elmiron, which can alleviate symptoms in many IC sufferers.

In time all her symptoms disappeared, freeing Myers to focus on golf. The result: her emotional, two-shot win in Los Angeles. “I had to choke back tears just to finish the last two holes,” she says. “I was thinking about Gary and Taylor, and about all IC sufferers, and how much this would help us.” More importantly, Myers no longer needs to guard her painful secret—or to make tortured excuses. She smiles at the memory of one recent dinner, where she sat at a table with several urologists. “Towards the end, one of them said, ‘Do you realize you’re the only one who has not gotten up the entire evening?’ ” says Myers. “I hadn’t realized it—but I didn’t have to get up.”


DON SIDER in Fort Myers

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