One man’s legacy helps extend the lives of patients diagnosed with common lung cancer

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Matt Christiansen and Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee and Matt Christiansen

Matt Christiansen was always dedicated to the two most important things in his life: his family, and his work as a successful executive at Callaway Golf Company.

In 2006, Matt, a husband and stepfather of three, was diagnosed with advanced non-small cell lung cancer at just 46 years of age. As this new reality slowly sunk in, Matt continued working and never allowed the disease to consume his life.

“Matt and I were shocked. He had no family history of lung cancer, and he had never smoked a day in his life,” said Barbara Lee, Matt’s widow. “He was also very active, and loved biking and fishing. He was like the energizer bunny.”

UCLA oncologist Dr. Edward Garon had prescribed Matt several new therapies in the hopes that it would slow the spread of his lung cancer. Unfortunately, none of them worked, and Matt was given standard chemotherapy instead.

Barbara Lee and Dr. Edward Garon

Sadly, just eighteen months later in 2009, Matt passed away.

That same year, his friends began an annual fundraiser that takes place in China, benefiting lung cancer research at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, which they dubbed the “One Ball Matt” memorial golf tournament.

“Matt didn’t love golf, so much as he ’lived’ golf. Everywhere he went, he would find an opportunity to play,” said Michael Roy, former colleague and co-organizer of the “One Ball Matt” fundraiser tournament, along with Jon Bobbett, Matt’s best friend who walked every step of Matt’s battle with cancer.

Like clockwork, Matt had traveled twice a year to China to meet with one of his company’s largest golfing footwear vendors. And every time Matt visited, he saw lifelong friends who gave him the nickname “One Ball Matt,” because he vowed to play 18 holes of golf with just one ball. Without hesitation he completed the challenge, and ever since that day the nickname stuck with him.

One Ball Matt memorial golf tournament

“Matt was one of those people who wasn’t afraid to make a decision and move on.  Even if he was wrong, he would never dwell on it. It was in the past and he was looking to the future,” said Roy.

In 2015, Matt’s friends and former colleagues reached a milestone by cumulatively raising more than $500,000 since the tournament’s inception. They have now set their sights on reaching $1 million. With this year’s tournament taking place once again in the fall— they will be even closer to that monumental achievement.

The generous support from the “One Ball Matt” fundraiser has already begun to plant seeds for promising future therapies.

The funds raised have helped Garon investigate the immunotherapy drug, Pembrolizumab, (marketed as Keytruda), which uses the immune system to attack cancer cells. The drug was approved by the Food & Drug Administration to treat patients diagnosed with non-small lung cancer. As a result, countless lives are already being saved.

Lee strongly encourages all men to go the doctor and get annual checkups, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms. She also hopes her husband’s story will save lives by emphasizing the importance of funding cancer research at UCLA.

Friends of One Ball Matt

“Every year this event touches my heart, it’s so amazing,” Lee said. “It says a lot about Matt and how he touched other people in the world to continue his legacy. This is something we believe in, and hope doctors will find a cure one day.”

This year’s “One Ball Matt” fundraiser will take place on November 16th again in Dong Guan City in China.  If you would like to donate to help the group reach their goal, please click here for more information