My name is Stephen Huff and I was diagnosed with lung cancer on June 1, 2017.
I have lived a fairly normal life up to this point. The first 28 years of my life consisted of healthy eating, good exercise, and never smoking. But it was about 2 years ago (2015), I began having some mild shortness of breath, coupled with a mild cough. Being a former professional athlete, now turned coach, I attributed these symptoms to allergies and just simply being out of shape.
Fast forward to January, 2017 (2 years later) Driving home from work, I noticed a small hard lump above my right collarbone. After a physician at a walk in clinic diagnosed me with acute bronchitis, they gave me some antibiotics and sent me on my way. After my visit, I distinctly remember walking to my car and thinking:
“Ok, I have an appointment with my primary care doctor in September (which was 9 months away), I’ll just wait until then to mention this.”
Call it anxiety, divine intervention, or just plain luck, but I don’t remember exactly what made me change my mind. So in April (3 months later), I made an appointment and was adamant about getting answers as to what was going on in my body.
It took a total of: 2 Chest X-RAYS, 3 CT Scans, 1 Ultrasound , 4 MRl’s of my Brain and Back, 1full-body PET scan, two misdiagnoses of Bronchitis and Pneumonia, and almost 2.5 years, but on June, 1 2017, I was finally diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.
I cannot describe all of the thoughts and feelings that went through my mind after hearing my diagnosis. It was like I blacked out and the only words I heard were adenocarcinoma, stage IV, and no cure. My life had been turned upside down. How did I go from eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel, celebrating my first day of summer vacation, in the same day, to filling out paperwork that asked if I have a living will.
My life was just getting started: I was getting married in 3 months, I had just bought a house with my fiance, and I had just started a new job as a high school teacher in Williamson County. I had so many hopes and dreams for my life. I wanted to start a family, I wanted to have a successful career. I wanted to grow old and have a long and happy marriage.
All I could think about was why cancer? Why me? And why now?
Call me crazy but something beautiful happened to me when my world was falling apart. It was a surreal humility, almost like a higher calling came over me. When my knees hit the floor, and I cried for help, I felt something come over me. It was the strength to fight and the empowerment to not let my circumstances define who I am. I am not Stephen the cancer patient and I’m here to say that I am not defined by my disease and my story isn’t finished yet.
For me, it was in this moment of clarity that I decided to make a change. That’s when I met Andrew Settle and Ronn Hollis at Free to Breathe. Through their guidance, coupled with assistance from our local state representatives, we are going to get the first ever Lung Cancer Awareness license plate for the state of Tennessee. With the support of my amazing wife Emily, my family, and supportive friends, we are all going to make a change.
Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined, yet lung cancer only receives 6% of federal dollars allocated to cancer research. This has got to change. Its research dollars funded by groups like Free to Breathe that give me hope for new treatment options. I am fortunate enough to be on a newly approved targeted therapy that lets me lead a normal life with minimal side effects. There’s been so much development in the last few years to exploring new treatment options, but we have only begun to scratch the surface. Surviving lung cancer should be the expectation, not the exception.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with this: It was Henry Ford that said “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” The premise behind this quote is that if you go into something with the belief that you will make it happen, then you’re much more likely to follow through, find more opportunities, create your own luck, and endure tough times. So many of us want a way to support someone that we know and love that has been touched by this disease. Let us all have a “Think you can” attitude as continue the fight to get more money for lung cancer research.