For Jerry Hudgins, the #GreatCall2020 Makes Perfect Sense

By: Jen Hoffman

The #GreatCall2020 Virtual 5k is set for May 23, 2020 and will feature the nation’s lacrosse officials participating in a run to benefit the HEADstrong Foundation, and the mission of improving lives affected by cancer. For cancer survivor, coach, and referee Jerry Hudgins, the campaign is the perfect synchronization of two communities that mean the world to him. 

Jerry and Lori Hudgins have been involved with HEADstrong for over 10 years. Between volunteering at numerous events, to their son Nate playing lacrosse on the HEADstrong LC Lehigh Valley team, the Foundation and the Colleluori family has been interwoven with the Hudgins’ life.

It all started at the Big City Classic lacrosse tournament in New York where HEADstrong was a charity partner. Jerry and Lori noticed their tent and felt compelled to stop by. After speaking with Cheryl and the rest of the Colleluori family, the Hudgins were eager to help keep Nick’s story alive. It resonated with them so much so that they brought the mission back to the Lehigh Valley and have been advocates for HEADstrong ever since.

“I ran a lacrosse program in Lehigh Valley, PA and we did a tournament where all of the programs participated in a play day and we took the HEADstrong name out there. We set up a tent and the family was there and Nick’s father Pat shared his son’s story with everyone. It was packed, and it really got the name out there,”  said Jerry.

The Hudgins’ relationship with HEADstrong would grow even stronger when Jerry found out that he had cancer. 

In February of 2019, Jerry discovered a mass in his neck. He and his wife Lori traveled nearly two hours from Easton, PA to Philadelphia to seek medical help at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Jerry was diagnosed with keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma (cancer at the base of the tongue), a diagnosis he could have never imagined.

As soon as they received the life altering diagnosis, Lori knew exactly who to call: HEADstrong President, Cheryl Colleluori. She along with members of the Foundation came to the rescue in more ways than one. Cheryl provided emotional support to Lori who now took on a new role as Jerry’s caregiver.  

“The cost of traveling was a huge burden on our family, you can never schedule a good time to get treatment, you have to go with the flow of availability. Lori reached out to Cheryl and there was a spot at Nick’s House at the time,” Jerry recalled.

Nick’s House is a home away from home for many cancer patients traveling to Philadelphia to seek cancer treatment. Families are provided with the basic amenities but what makes the experience at Nick’s House truly unique is the comfort you feel while staying there. “Nick’s House was full while we were there. With all of the families there you tend to get very close to those people. It’s your home,” said Jerry. “There was a gentleman there who had the same cancer that I had but he was 2 weeks ahead of me so I knew what was coming as I got further along in treatment. It was extremely helpful and allowed me to prepare myself.”

Less than a month after learning of his diagnosis, Jerry began treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with a doctor recommended by Cheryl Colleluori. He underwent 35 rounds of radiation. Once every 3 weeks he would get a super dose of chemo as he liked to call it, which was different than the typical one dose a week like most other patients staying at Nick’s House were receiving.

“Chemo by far was the toughest. I handled radiation very well. The chemo put me down for multiple days. I would get my chemo on Wednesday and I said to Lori I didn’t even know if I wanted to do my last round of chemo, it beat me down really bad,”  Jerry remembers. 

Nick’s House was one big support system for the Hudgins, in particular for Lori. “For my wife, just being able to talk to them helped her because there were times I was just too tired I would lay down for hours. There was always someone there for her to talk to, go for walks with or sit on the porch with. We made lasting friendships,” Jerry said.

The kids didn’t stay with them at Nick’s House but they would come and visit whenever they could and the Colleluori family welcomed them with open arms. “My daughter loves Pat Sr. Whenever my kids were at the house, they would always go out of their way to stop by making sure we were comfortable and well taken care of,” Jerry said.

Cancer is something that Lori Hudgins would never wish on anyone but it’s an experience that you just don’t understand until you live through it. “It’s a very humbling experience, being at Nick’s House opens up your eyes and makes you realize what’s important in life. Family comes first, especially in times of need. As if a battle with cancer wasn’t enough on their plate, Lori lost her job during the ordeal. “Cheryl told me that I was the 6th caregiver in 6 months who lost their job while their loved one was going through cancer treatment,” Lori stated. “It sucked but we got through it, at the end of the day family is more important than a job.”

After a long 7 week stay at Nick’s House, Jerry and Lori could finally return to their Easton, PA home and be reunited with their kids. Jerry is forever grateful for his time at Nick’s House. “The doctors helped me physically, Nick’s House helped me spiritually and emotionally, Nick’s House healed my soul.”

Now Jerry wants to help HEADstrong with their newest campaign, #GreatCall2020. The challenge is a virtual 5k where lacrosse officials can rally together and raise funds to help those at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, all while running in support of their lost season. 

‘I have always been interested in learning more about Lacrosse. One of my friends who is also an official said to me you should come to class and take the test and start working as an official. I thought this might be a chance to work even more with the youth players and become more knowledgeable of the game and spread that knowledge to the youth. I had been coaching for a number of years and this would be an opportunity to learn what the “other” team sees and help myself understand the game even more. I love that I did it and would tell anyone who loves this game to do it also,” Jerry remarked. 

If you’re a lacrosse official, join Jerry and all of the other ref’s on Saturday May 23rd, 2020 for the #GreatCall2020. Please click here to learn more and register!