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Dust Off Your Boots for Polo on the Prairie

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gailpolo1.jpgPolo, which has been referred to as the "Game of Kings," was probably first played by nomadic warriors more than 2,000 years ago. Imagine what those warriors would have thought about the annual Polo on the Prairie tournament that has been played on the Musselman Brothers' Lazy 3 Ranch near Albany, Texas, for the past 25 years.

As a first-timer at the event, I was amazed at the entire spectacle. From Friday evening's delightful fish fry on a beautiful green lawn to the real-deal polo game and barbecue dinner on Saturday, Polo on the Prairie was a weekend of tradition for many supporters of MD Anderson.

This was a landmark year for Polo because it turned 25. Over the years, the event has spread the news of MD Anderson's top-rated patient care and research and has also honored those whose lives have been touched by cancer.

What was once a passion for MD Anderson Board of Visitors member Mary Anne McCloud has become an incredible fundraiser for the institution. Before the monies were counted for 2011, more than $3.6 million has returned to MD Anderson for patient care, research, prevention and education initiatives.

Sharing stories
Co-chairs Melinda and Henry Musselman make it clear that Polo is a family commitment that has grown into a means to give people hope when they need it.

Melinda calls the Friday fish fry the calm before the storm. It's a much smaller group of supporters, and I was excited to see my college friend, Virginia Bachman Musselman, a breast cancer survivor.

Virginia, wife of the eldest Musselman brother, Johnny, and I caught up and traded stories. As an MD Anderson patient since 2001, her treatment involved surgery and chemotherapy and finally a stem cell transplant. Today, Virginia is cancer free and sings the praises of MD Anderson for saving her life.

There were other survivors in the crowd, too. Sitting at my table were members of the Anderson Network steering committee. Between us, we shared breast cancer with metastases to the bone and liver, brain cancer, melanoma, acute myeloid leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Together, we heard stories of hope and felt proud to be part of MD Anderson. From experience, all of us know that when you have cancer, MD Anderson is the best place to be.

Polo1.jpgA Kaleidoscope of impressions
Over the weekend, I was impressed by the number of volunteers who organized Polo on the Prairie. There were those who hung flags to point people in the right direction, Boy Scouts who handled the parking, a pilot who gave everyone a thrill with an official military fly-over, those who checked in the attendees and completed the seating arrangements, volunteers who set up the tents and the tables and decorated them - even the polo players donated their time and horses for the tournament.

The originators of this event tell stories of those who have been involved in Polo as it has grown through the years, and they're confident that their own children will be there to pass the baton to when the time comes.

I brought a bit of that West Texas dust back home to Houston, but I also came away with a kaleidoscope of impressions: horse hooves flying, friends gathering, delicious meals (loved that peach cobbler!), toe-tappin' to Pat Green and his band, putting my cowboy hat over my heart during The Star Spangled Banner and the memory of feeling so proud to be both an employee and a patient at MD Anderson.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what you do or who you are, you never know what's going to happen on the polo field. That must be at least one of the reasons that people come back year after year to enjoy the sport and to salute MD Anderson and all that it stands for.

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