Battling Stage IV Lung Cancer
Hi. My name is Stephen Huff.
I’m a high school teacher passionate about serving and educating. My life has taken me to many unexpected places, first as a professional athlete, traveling the country, and playing pro baseball. After my career ended, I decided my next best opportunity to serve was to be a coach. Coaching led me to my passion now: serving my community and educating.
I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2017 at 29. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe my emotional state just months away from my wedding. I learned quickly that lung cancer was underfunded because of the destructive stigma that it’s a smoker’s disease. Channeling my inner strength, I decided to use my story to eradicate that stigma, and regardless of personal choices, humans should have a fair chance at survival.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve gotten married, welcomed a healthy son into our family, and started a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness and research funding for lung cancer while teaching full-time.
MY CANCER FAMILY: What is your treatment?
STEPHEN HUFF: My first line of treatment was an oral drug, categorized as a TKI. It’s considered a targeted drug that focuses my body’s attention on attacking the ALK+ driver mutation in my cancer. My initial treatment failed after 5-years, and I’ve been on a second-generation TKI since. I’ve also had radiation several times to resistant tumors along the way, which allowed me to stay on my course of treatment longer.
MY CANCER FAMILY: What are 3-5 things that get you through treatment (people, things you do, etc…anything!)
My family: specifically my wife and son. They are my motivation for getting through anything. My first oncologist told me that my cancer was “incurable,” so I’m not going to waste a second of precious time with my loved ones.
My faith: After my diagnosis, I developed my spirituality to provide peace about my health situation. Searching for answers can drive anyone crazy, and my relationship with my Savior gives me serenity and allows me to focus on the gifts in my life.
Staying active: I firmly believe in the adage, “An object in motion stays in motion.” So I make a conscious effort to keep moving. Whether that’s an inch or 5 miles, it’s not about how fast you go; it’s about continuing to move forward.
Plan Ahead: Life goes on, even after a devastating diagnosis. I make a concerted effort to continue planning life events. These include family trips, vacations, holiday traditions, career opportunities, and more. Have something to look forward to and plan. Cancer tries taking away our freedom, and I’m not going to allow that.
Celebrate Life’s Victories: Life is too short to overlook wins. For me, a good scan is a huge win. My family celebrates good doctor’s appointments with a meal at our favorite local Mexican restaurant. But we also celebrate many milestones that are sometimes overlooked. Like when I couldn’t breathe, walking up my stairs after starting my new treatment, now I can walk around the neighborhood without stopping. We might celebrate that accomplishment with some ice cream. The point is that winning, to me, isn’t necessarily defined as beating cancer. It’s celebrating the joys of everyday life with my loved ones.
MY CANCER FAMILY: Do you have a favorite nonprofit and how did / can they help you, especially in ways that people may not know about?
STEPHEN HUFF: Imerman Angels is a nonprofit with a mission to provide comfort and understanding for all cancer fighters, survivors, previvors, and caregivers through a personalized, one-on-one connection with someone who has been there. They offer one-on-one support for cancer patients worldwide by pairing a patient in need with a mentor that’s been through an experience with cancer. I’m a mentor angel and use my experience to help those in need.
MY CANCER FAMILY: Tell us about The Huff Project
STEPHEN HUFF: The Huff Project is a grassroots nonprofit that my wife, Emily, and I started shortly after my stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. We saw a need to use my story to raise awareness and research funds for lung cancer. I was astonished at the number of people that received a diagnosis and weren’t aware of who was at risk. Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer, taking more lives than the next several significant cancers combined, and yet it receives a fraction of the research funding. Through two annual key tentpole events, a songwriter night, and a chip-in’ for lung cancer golf tournament, we’ve proudly raised over $300,000 for lung cancer research. We distribute our proceeds to specific lung cancer initiatives that we believe will help to increase survival. Several of our contributions were seed grants that led to larger NIH grants, and we’re very proud of that, considering we’re run entirely by volunteers.
MY CANCER FAMILY: Do you have any cancer hacks or things others going through a cancer journey might not know and would find helpful?
STEPHEN HUFF: I’d recommend exploring interventional therapies. Be open to new things such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, therapy, etc. This step was hard because societal norms blinded me from these enlightenment tools. Cancer treatments are brutal and exploring outlets let me focus on the mind-body-spirit connection. Spiritually healing is part of the cancer journey that is overlooked but vital in recovery.
MY CANCER FAMILY: Do you have a few favorite products that help you on your cancer journey?
STEPHEN HUFF: I used essential oils for radiation burns and CDB as needed for sleep. It would be best if you spoke with your physician before trying anything. Still, I have an open dialogue with my doctors, and we discuss the best way to address my symptoms without adding to my daily medications.
MY CANCER FAMILY: What is the most important thing people should know about a lung cancer journey?
STEPHEN HUFF: There is hope. More treatment options have been developed in the last ten years than in the entire history of the disease. Living with lung cancer was a complex notion for me to grasp, but if I can continue on a treatment that’s keeping my cancer at bay with minimal side effects and I can still thrive, then I’m okay with that. Try not to think of your diagnosis as a death sentence but a chronic disease. I firmly believe they will find a cure in our lifetime.
MY CANCER FAMILY: Do you have a motto or something to share that inspires you daily?
STEPHEN HUFF: Go all in each day for a purpose bigger than yourself.
MY CANCER FAMILY: Any advice for how someone can support a friend or family member with a stage IV diagnosis
STEPHEN HUFF: Be supportive by emotionally meeting them where they are, listening, and responding with empathy over sympathy. Often I’m met with the phrase, “I don’t know what to say to you,” to that I respond with, “That’s okay; you don’t need to.” Knowing that you care and I can talk to you without judgment is enough as a cancer patient.