05/06/07 — Cancer gave city manager Huffman new perspective

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Cancer gave city manager Huffman new perspective

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 6, 2007 2:00 AM

Don't call Joe Huffman a survivor. He wouldn't want you to temp fate.

Utter the word and he will take you back to the day an appendectomy revealed cancer.

It was a late fall early morning in 1998.

"I was planning on waking up the next morning for a 13-mile run," Huffman said. "I just fell out of bed -- couldn't catch my breath. I could see those white flashes. I was doubled over and couldn't move. I said, 'God, I can see absolutely no good coming out of this pain. Please show me the good.'"

His wife rushed him to a hospital in Havelock, the North Carolina town where he served as city manager.

The doctors gave their diagnosis, appendicitis, and prepped him for surgery.

"So, they take my appendix out and I think I'm fine," Huffman said.

But when a nurse called him the next day and rescheduled his follow-up appointment, he knew something was wrong.

"You don't move up an appointment from 30 days to three days," Huffman said. "So, I go to the appointment and the doctor walks in and he says, 'You're the luckiest man in the world. You've got cancer, but we think we've got it all."

Tissue from his appendix had been sent to a lab for testing -- a formality that revealed irregularities and, later, cancer.

"Wow. So now I find out I've got cancer," he said. "Colon cancer."

Within a few days, he was to have surgery -- a simple incision to remove portions of his small intestine.

"The doctor, he said, 'We're going to get in and be quick about it,'" Huffman said.

And then he woke up -- a stitched incision running across the full length of his torso.

His recovery was a quick one -- a product of the prayers and love pouring in from those around him, Huffman said.

"Word got out. That weekend, I've got people of different faiths, from across two counties, praying for me," he said. "And my wife stayed with me. She would not leave. I'll never forget her doing that."

His wife, Patty, hated seeing her husband in pain, Huffman recalls. But he would gladly go through it again and again than see her or someone else he loves battle cancer.

"She would tell me how sorry she was that I had to got through all this," he said. "I would tell her, I'd rather it be me than you or the girls.' It was an enrichment program I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."

Within a few weeks of his surgery, Huffman was back at work.

"I couldn't wait to get back," he said.

And he brought with him a new perspective on life.

"I knew that if I'm going to do anything in my life, I'm going to do it now," Huffman said. "I don't take anything for granted."

The Huffman family lives in Wayne County now.

Joe works at City Hall as Goldsboro's city manager.

And like others who have had their lives unalterably changed by cancer, he will be at Wayne Community College May 18.

You're bound to see Huffman when the sun sets on Relay For Life's tent city -- standing on a stage with an electric guitar in his hand.

He and his Banished bandmates will be using their musical talent to help find a cure.

"Cancer, I wish it would go away right now," Huffman said. "That's where my music needs to come from -- that desire. We're really going to rock at Relay."

And he hopes that through the music, he is doing his part to help put an end to cancer.

"Almost all of my actions are for the future," Huffman said. "It's about what somebody two generations from now is going to experience. It's not about Joe."

So when the final note fades into the night and you congratulate him on a job well done, don't be surprised if he tells you about everybody else and what they are doing to protect the future.

He's just another humble man with more work to do - but not a survivor.

"That word, I have never come to terms with it," he said. "I don't know what survivor means. You don't fight cancer and win. You fight cancer and fight."