McKee and her tennis team

The players of the women's senior 3.0 Sectional Champions who competed at the United States Tennis Association's National Tournament in Rancho Mirage, Oct. 5-7. At far right is Sandy McKee. (USTA / October 25, 2012)

This is for all those people who are seriously ill and thinking they may never do what they love again.

I was like that in 2010, recovering from back-to-back breast cancer and heart surgeries and the aftermath. I thought tennis, which is my athletic passion, was probably not going to be part of my future — if there was one.

During my illnesses, tennis was a number of things to me: distraction, as my recovery efforts happened to be perfectly timed for watching the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open; incentive, because I couldn't wait to get back onto the court; and dream — would I ever make it back?

I'm writing this because the answer to that last question is: "Yes!"

And not only did I make it back, but now, at age 63, I'm better than ever.

This month, as a member of the 3.0 seniors team called Double Mac, captained by Debbie MacDonald and Sharon (Sam) Macuci (thus the Double Mac) in Columbia, I qualified for the United States Tennis Association's League National Championships in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

We got there by going 10-0 in the regular season against local teams, by improving to 12-1 in the district tournament and then sweeping through sectionals with three more wins.

At the Nationals, played Oct. 5-7 at Mission Hills Country Club, we finished with a 2-1 record and tied for first in our group. We did that with our share of the unexpected.

At the USTA's welcoming party Oct. 4, one of our players, Karen Lackler, pulled a muscle doing the Electric Slide — yes, we were having fun — forcing a change in our lineup.

And during our first match, one of our players, Linda Daniels, who is a 14-year breast cancer survivor, got overheated in the 105-degree weather. Her heart rate rose to 170 and for a time it did not come down. A trainer was called, ice was applied — to the back of her neck, under her arms and on her groin. It worked. And she and her partner, Susan Thompson, survived and won their match.

We, of course, laughed at the ice on the groin.

"Who knew?" we asked, and giggled like children.

We didn't advance, however, due to tiebreakers. It was Ohio, a team we beat that won two more courtsthan we did in those first three matches, that went to the semifinals and finished as the runner-up to Texas.

For me, it had been a two-year battle to be able to compete at this level. First there was the breast cancer and a lumpectomy two days before Christmas in December 2009. Then came the radiation treatment and, a week after that ended in mid-April 2010, open-heart surgery to remove a mass called a myxoma from inside my heart.

The mass turned out to be benign, but nothing went as projected during or after the heart surgery. Totally exhausted from the previous radiation treatment, I had little strength to get through what followed.

The surgery itself took eight hours instead of four. My lungs filled with water multiple times in the weeks and months that followed and had to be drained. A cough — so debilitating it made my stomach roil and forced me to carry a wastebasket and a roll of paper towels just to move from the bed to a chair — started immediately after the surgery and only got worse. A month later, it landed me in the hospital for another week while doctors tried to sort it out. Even now, I have some of the cough.

There was labored breathing, the inability for four months to lie down and breathe or sleep properly, swollen hands and wrists from the post-radiation cancer medication that led to carpal tunnel syndrome and made arthritis I didn't know I had rise up to test me.

I was out of work for eight months and away from competitive tennis for more than a year.

To say I was a mess and that I doubted I'd ever get to play the sport I love again is an understatement.

But eight months with a trainer in 2011, listening to my doctors and perseverance got me back to where I am today.