GRAND FORKS -- Golf has always been something that Red River's Ella McMullin has had in her life. She describes her family as a golf family.
"We have pictures stored in some old camera of me, little three year old me, with a little golf club set playing on a golf course," McMullin said.
It's not a love of just sinking a long birdie putt or drilling a long tee shot, but more for the feeling of being out on the course.
"I was always told a bad day golfing is better than being in the classroom," the sophomore said.
There was a time, however, when getting back on the course seemed like a dream, because Ella was fighting for her life.
When Ella was just in sixth grade, she started complaining of pain in her side.
"Anytime I did anything I just noticed it," Ella said. "It was a constant feeling of hey, something’s pushing in here."
That pain continued to get worse until one night in February 2018, when her mother, Bonnie, decided something needed to be done.
"I told her if she couldn’t take a Tylenol that she had to go to the emergency room," Bonnie said. "She tried taking the Tylenol, and she threw it up and I was like, 'Nope, you have to go.'"
Ella had numerous X-rays and scans, and what they revealed was something no one expected.
"Very quickly they diagnosed this large tumor in her abdomen, it was almost the size of a pineapple," Bonnie said.
"They said to me, 'You have stage four cancer,'" Ella remembered. "I’m pretty certain I would have died very soon, a week or two after we found it, if we hadn’t found it."
Doctors told her the cancer was already growing, and treatment needed to start quickly. It called for 25 weeks of intense and grueling chemotherapy.
"The first night it was on and off, awake and asleep, fading in and out of consciousness," she said. "The first night I found a bald spot on my head, I had a panic attack basically."
"Just her pain and her crying and that moaning," Bonnie remembered, "it was the worst night of my life."
As the weeks of chemo went on, though, Ella's mindset became more positive. She was learning not to fear her battle.
"In the end, I’m going to be fine," she said. "Even if I die, there’s a plan for me. In the end, I’m going to be better."
She did get better. The chemo shrunk her tumor so much that it could be surgically removed in the summer of 2018.
Her chemo ended around the same time Red River's golf season began, when she started playing on the Roughriders' junior varsity team.
"I’m golfing, I’m having a good time,." she said. "I’m here with people I really enjoy being with. I just stopped caring about strokes."
Ella was declared clinically cured in the summer of 2020, two years after her final chemo treatments.
"It was definitely a bit of relief," she said.
Now a sophomore, the moments on the golf course, good or bad, are one's Ella knows to savor. A bogey doesn't frustrate her as much now as it once did, because the adversity she's already faced is greater than a number on a scorecard.
"No matter what trouble you’re going through," Ella said. "No matter how much you’re struggling, no matter what’s happening to you, in the end, it’ll be alright."