John Huynh, a well known face in the Dallas-Fort Worth skating scene, was recently diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 28. In November, his friends, family, and the community came together to support John and help raise money for his hospital bills with a Cancer Benefit featuring a skate trick contest, a skateboard release, a silent auction and live music.
We were lucky enough to be able to catch up with John after the event to see how it went and to hear more about his story.
Can you share a little bit about your story?
After the New Year, I started noticing some changes to my body. I’ve been skateboarding for 16 years and all of a sudden I started to have an itching sensation on the top side of my hands and feet. Then I noticed that anything adrenaline based would create the same itching feeling. From there, I started having bowel issues that built up to lower back pains. The abdominal pains started about a week before I saw a doctor. Originally, I thought these symptoms were possibly from diabetes. Two days later I found out that I needed to go to the hospital ASAP, as I was anemic with a hemoglobin level of 5.1. A few days in the hospital and a colonoscopy later, on July 15th, I received the news that I had colon cancer. The doctors were not able to stage the cancer until surgery, but assumed from my CT scans that it was in its earlier stages. Honestly, I didn’t have any emotions from the news (I ran through them all on the way to the hospital the days prior), but was more relieved to have closure on why my body was feeling funky. I dreaded telling close friends and family as I knew it wasn’t the news we were hoping for. After reading up on some of the causes, everything I knew as a twenty-eight year old would have to change, which meant quitting alcohol and eating unhealthily. It’s been an eye opening process on what I should and should not do regarding food, but I’m glad that I’m finally taking care of my body.
Now for whatever reasons, my surgery was booked two and half months later. I had a sigmoid colon resection surgery. A week after getting out of the hospital, I would find out my cancer was stage IV. It was hard to grasp and understand the information being told to me. We all thought it was suppose to be in its earlier stages so hearing it wasn’t just took me back. That week in general was one of my lowest points as two days later the world would lose a young iconic professional skateboarder, Dylan Rieder, due to complications with Leukemia. It wasn’t until I met with my oncologist that I could comprehend my illness. Two of 17 lymph nodes were infected, and the cancer had spread through my peritoneum wall. I started my first of 12 treatments on November 2nd. Overall, it has been an experience where you just have to keep on looking at the bright side of life. There’s only so much you can do and the one element I can control is living in the moment.
You recently had a fundraising event, can you tell us about that? What made your event so special?
My friends from Red Bull reached out and wanted to do something to help. Then the fine folks at Index Skateboard Supply designed a custom skateboard deck that would help cover any previous and upcoming medical bills. With both parties' assistance, we decided to combine it into a skateboard release/benefit. We were able to receive donations from some of my favorite skateboard companies to use towards a silent auction. Oakley was able to provide a replica skate table (the ones you’d see in California schoolyards) for the attendees to skate on. The event ended with music from a local artist, Same Brain, which was cool to see as some of the members I’ve known for years and have watched grow up through their late teens.
It was beyond amazing to look into the crowd and see everyone’s excitement. From start to finish, the energy of all the attendees made it worthwhile. The bar we held it at was expecting maybe 50 people, but instead a couple of hundred people showed up to support an “interesting” cause. I’m saying “interesting” regarding the fact that most adults around my age are getting married or having their first kid, but here I am with a cancer party haha. There was a wide range in age groups, but the majority of people were in their early to mid-twenties. To get that much support and awareness to a young crowd was unbelievable. And for that, I am truly thankful!
When things have gotten tough, what has helped you keep going?
When I was first diagnosed, I wrote myself a note that I like to read every morning. I don’t have any kids or a wife so my friends are my support group. They’ve helped a lot! At times, just taking control of my life and doing what I want to do helps. When I was at my lowest, I technically was not suppose to drive, as my abdomen was very sensitive from surgery, but I knew I had to get out of the house. I knew I needed to hangout with some friends and get my mind off of things. Last, but not least, my parents helped set the tone. To this date, I’ve had yet to see my parents cry in front of me over my illness. My first phone call to my mother was her asking “what do I have to do to make you better,” and that’s the tone we’ve been going with. They’re learning as much as I am and coming to me with new things to try.
What do you think is the key to eliminating colon cancer? Where would you like to see us 10 years down the road?
To stay positive, eat healthy, and enjoy life. If it’s not hereditary then there has to be some dietary changes. There’s so much information and research out there. You have to find out what you’re willing to do and make a change. I’m a firm believer that preservatives and whatever food changes over the decades is a causing factor for the growth in younger demographics. I would love to see an actual cure. Science has grown so much in the last century. We’ve sent people to space, but there’s still not an actual cure, even with all the millions spent on research. A boy can only dream...
With young onset colon cancer on the rise, why do you think getting screened is so important?
It’s going to catch colorectal cancer at its earlier stages. The under 50 club are diagnosed at a later stage as early screening may or may not have been provided from the doctors. I’ve read multiple stories and it’s a shame to hear people asking for help, but instead are prescribed drugs that have no effect. My heart goes out the ones that have asked for colonoscopies and get rejected because “we” do fit the age demographic. I’ve seen it first hand where they would ask why I’ve had a few colonoscopies. When I inform them I have cancer, you just see them scratch their heads in shock. I know I can’t be their first patient under 30. We need less scratching and quicker reacting.
What advice or words of wisdom would you like to give to other young cancer patients in your shoes?
As cliche as it sounds, you just have to stay positive. We can’t control what and/or how our bodies will react, but we can control our attitudes towards it. I would love to be able to predict the future, but truth is all you can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Whether it’s 50, 20, 10, 5, or 2 years left, you just gotta make them the best years and enjoy every moment. I mentioned it a little up top, but doing what YOU want does go a long way. Treat yourself, and if you want to go climb Mount Everest, do it. Live your life and enjoy every moment.
For more information on young-onset colorectal cancer please visit our Young and Brave