SAN DIEGO – San Diego State offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski has memorable wins under his more than two-decade-long coaching belt. Like beating Notre Dame under the lights in the Big House when he was an assistant at Michigan. Or winning the Poinsettia Bowl against Navy at Qualcomm Stadium in his first stint with the Aztecs in 2010.
But his greatest victory came off the field in helping his wife Tiffany beat stage 3 colon cancer.
“The definition of a coach’s wife is definitely in the supporting role,” Tiffany said.
In the Hecklinski household, there are a few fundamentals: faith, family and football. In the latter, she said everything that she’s done in her role supports what he and the children do.
“As long as all those pieces are happy and in place then everything else is OK,” she said.
At work, Jeff can be found on the sideline with the Aztecs. He’s the team’s offensive coordinator under head coach Brady Hoke, both in their second stints with the university.
“I mean, every now and then I yell,” Hecklinski said.
“Every now and then?” said Tiffany, laughing.
According to the coach, their family’s structure is a lot like a house and he’s a part of that house. But he credits his wife for being the foundation of their family.
In June 2011, the couple got some news that neither expected.
“I had emergency surgery and about 24 hours later they diagnosed me with stage 3 colorectal cancer,” she said. Tiffany was 37 at the time with three children and no family history of the disease.
That’s when she began the fight of her life.
“I had radiation five days a week and they literally have these lasers that attack where the tumor was,” she said.
Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regular screenings can prevent up to 60% of those deaths, the advocacy organization Fight Colorectal Cancer said.
The Hecklinski story of survival falls under that category.
Because of her young age, Tiffany was able to undergo aggressive treatment, including more than 50 rounds of radiation and wearing a 24-hour chemotherapy pack. She says, “Essentially like you’re killing yourself in order to live.”
Finally, after more than a year after the diagnosis, Tiffany was cancer-free.
“I’m cured, right?” she said. “I’m 10 years this month. I’m proof that this is treatable and curable. Now, the treatments helped. We can talk about that, but I’m here and I’m alive.”
“You want to know why our family is strong? It’s because of her strength,” Jeff said. “It’s her strength that pulled her through it. We were there to help, but it was her strength.”
Turning to his wife, Hecklinski remarked, “And, of course, my greatest win is you. Period.”
March is dedicated as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the couple hope to spread awareness to all in hopes of saving lives.