By: Jennifer Hoffman
Jerry and Lori Hudgins have been involved with HEADstrong for over 10 years. Between volunteering at numerous events, to their son Nate playing lacrosse in the Lehigh Valley, the foundation and the Colleluori family have intertwined themselves into 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 the need to stop by. After speaking with Cheryl and the rest of the Colleluori family, the Hudgins felt compelled to 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 lax program in Lehigh Valley, PA and we did a tournament where all of the programs participate 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 Dad Pat shared Nick’s story with everyone. It was packed, and it really got the name out there” remarked Jerry.
Little did they know, their relationship with HEADstrong would soon be more than just supporting the foundation through lacrosse tournaments, but would take a turn for the worst that no one saw coming.
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. “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.
Jerry and Lori packed their bags, said it’s not goodbye, but we’ll see you later to their two children Nate (16) and McKayla (6), got in the car and started on the most uneasy journey of their life. But one thing that would be easy in the sea of uncertainty that was ahead of them would be their stay at Nick’s House.
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” recalled Jerry.
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 explained.
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” said Jerry.
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” said Lori. 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,” stated Lori. “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 preparing for an upcoming pet scan and doctors feel extremely confident that the cancer did not metastasize.
Jerry doesn’t want to say the ‘r word’ yet (remission) until the doctors give him the green light, but he is forever grateful for his time at Nick’s House. “The doctors at UPenn helped me physically, Nick’s House helped me spiritually and emotionally, Nick’s House healed my soul.”