Tiffany Hecklinski was used to watching her husband, Jeff, prepare for a big game. Now it was her turn.
In January 2011, Brady Hoke asked Jeff Hecklinski to follow him to Ann Arbor as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for Michigan Football. Tiffany, then 37, stayed behind to pack up the family’s home in San Diego. She was having nagging pain in her abdomen, but doctors chalked it up to irritable bowel syndrome and gave her something for the symptoms.
By June, and now in Ann Arbor, the pain had become so bad that she couldn’t stand. An MRI and CT scan showed that part of her colon was blocked. She had emergency surgery and was told two days later that it was colon cancer.
“I did not want cancer to take away from who I was,” Tiffany says.
Tiffany had infusion every other Friday, while continuing her work teaching communications classes and taking care of her husband and three young children. The days leading up to those infusion Fridays were her version of prepping for a football game: kids’ lunches made, emails answered, speeches and tests graded.
“That was my game day. In order to prepare for how hard the next few days would be, I wanted to have everything wrapped up. I walked into the Cancer Center in full regalia – heels, jeans, sweater, full make-up – ready to fight for my life,” Tiffany says.
Tiffany’s chemotherapy was given continuously over 48 hours, with a bag that she carried around as she went about her daily life. When she found out she would need the chemo bag, she got the measurements of the bag, and went to the mall to search for a designer bag that would do the job, her first designer handbag purchase.
“It was great because people didn’t know what it was. I wanted to look as normal as possible and to keep a sense of normalcy for my family,” says Tiffany, who did not lose her hair during treatment. “If people knew about my diagnosis, they said I didn’t look like I had cancer. To me, this is what cancer looks like. It’s strong.”
Tiffany finished her chemotherapy in March 2012 and remains cancer-free. She is planning plastic surgery in January to get reconstruction on her stomach, which bears the scars from her surgery. It’s one more way to help her feel normal and gain control over her life. She still has some shooting pains in her arm from her port, and some discomfort in her abdomen where her incision was.
“Some people struggle with being a survivor, but I don’t,” she says. “I’m lucky and fortunate, and now I need to help others. For those of us who can help, we have a responsibility for all of those who can’t.”
What does cancer look like? In this series of stories we explore the Face of Cancer – the patients, survivors, caregivers and health care providers who are redefining what cancer looks like. These stories celebrate the ways in which people continue to live their life, find purpose and stay true to themselves throughout cancer treatment.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.