COACH BEATING CANCER; SAUGUS' HALLMAN BACK TO HIS OLD SELF AFTER TREATMENT FOR HODGKIN'S DISEASE.
Jeff Hallman wondered who was that man he saw.
He was a gaunt man, 6-foot-2, no more than 160 pounds. What hair there had been on his head was thinned by chemotherapy. He had no eyebrows, body hair, fingernails.
Hallman was looking at himself.
It was May, and the Saugus High basketball coach was in the midst of treatment for Hodgkin's disease.
Eight months later, Hallman doesn't look like he ever had cancer. His weight is back at 180 pounds. He has muscle tone and as much hair on his head as he ever did.
His cancer is in complete remission, and his doctors say his prognosis is excellent that the cancer may be gone forever.
For Hallman, now 39, it has been quite a ride, one which showed him a positive attitude can help you through the greatest challenges.
``I feel grateful,'' he said last month after a practice. ``I'm out running the other day, and it's so true: You've got to live life to the fullest. What does that mean? You get to be grateful. I've never felt so grateful to feel good.''
Hallman didn't think cancer would happen to him, a man fueled by proper diet and exercise, who never used tobacco, rarely drank and has no family history of cancer.
``I didn't have any of the risk factors,'' he said.
He first noticed something was wrong in December 1996. He tired sooner and lost some weight. One night, he put his hand on his thigh and realized, ``My God, there's nothing there.''
His family doctor thought it was mononucleosis or the Epstein-Barr virus, so he prescribed antibiotics.
In January, Hallman started waking up drenched in sweat. Once, he finished running and noticed a red rash on his chest.
``I thought, `Man, 38 has hit me hard,' '' he said. ``Maybe it was a skin irritation.''
The redness didn't go away, and by February, he felt a lump in the back of his neck. When he looked in the mirror, he saw what looked like a marble protruding.
His reaction was swift.
``Immediately, the thought of cancer and denial came to mind,'' he said.
He didn't want to face the thought so he rationalized, ``If I don't go to the doctor, he can't tell me I'm sick. And if I'm not told that I'm sick, I'm OK.''
Hallman looked at his adopted daughter, Callie, then 2. He wondered if he was going to be around in a year.
His fear caused him to wait a few days before telling his wife, Cindy.
The week after the season ended, Hallman visited his doctor, who concluded after several tests he might have Hodgkin's.
A subsequent X-ray and biopsy confirmed Hallman had a malignant mass in his chest.
The realization it might be cancer came on Cindy's birthday.
``The joke became, `Hello, I have a tumor. Happy birthday,' '' Hallman said.
Hodgkin's disease, or Lymphadenoma, is a condition in which the lymph nodes in the body become enlarged, usually starting in the neck and chest. The body suffers no pain at first but eventually might have alternating days of fever and no fever, gradual weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, itching and night sweats.
A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy is a common treatment, and one medical dictionary puts the survival rate for patients at 78 percent.
Hallman wasn terrified he wouldn't survive.
``When you first hear your name and the C-word, you wonder, `How much longer do I have?' '' Hallman said.
Just realizing he had cancer going through his body was enough to make Hallman cry continuously. But there also was his sense of mortality. He didn't know if he would be around in six months or in two years. He couldn't go run and feel better. The uncertainty made him cry some more.
Saugus athletic director Bill Bolde, a member of Hallman's church, said his friend was the type to run, bike and play with his team. He wasn't doing that anymore.
``It's a tough thing to deal with,'' Bolde said. ``You don't realize how vulnerable the human body is and how we don't stop and be thankful for everyday things, like sight. It's not until you have a crises that you stop. Jeff had a wakeup call.''
Doctors at the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital cancer ward told him Hodgkin's in a man his age is one of the easiest to treat and cure. The more positive his attitude was, the better treatment would be.
After much pain, sorrow and fear, Hallman realized he would have to do it.
``You had to battle then,'' he said. ``It was inevitable what you had to do. There were no choices.''
``He knew he needed these treatments and he was going to get them,'' said Carolyn Young, a radiation oncologist who treated Hallman in the later stages.
Chemotherapy began March 17 with Hallman taking seven different medicines every other Thursday for six months, a total of 12 sessions.
As Jeff progressed through treatment, his condition worsening by the drugs, Cindy felt more and more helpless. She knew the treatment would make her husband better, but it made him so sick first.
Sixteen years ago, she married a very athletic man. The man in her house then wasn't the same.
``When he lost his eyebrows, he looked sick,'' she said. ``Before, I could see him as Jeff.''
The days Jeff received chemotherapy were among the loneliest. Jeff slept, and Cindy cried and prayed that he wouldn't throw up so much.
``You wonder if it's ever going to be back to normal,'' she said. ``You feel like you want to get away. There's no way to help them, so you don't know how to help them.''
Hallman knew he needed to let the treatment run its course and maintain a positive attitude.
Fortunately, he didn't have to wait long to see results. On April 30, a CT scan revealed the cancer had decreased.
``It helps a lot when a patient gets a result that we've got proof,'' said John Barstus, the medical oncologist who treated Hallman. ``Instead of getting worse, now they're getting better.''
At the time of his recovery, the Hallmans had just moved into a new house, and much yard work and landscaping needed to be done. Hallman couldn't do it, so friends and teammates did.
Forward Matt Bradley and guard Brad Cleveland and Bolde said they saw a paler, thinner coach who nonetheless was upbeat about his chances for recovery.
``It was kind of encouraging,'' Bradley said. ``He's our coach. We're supposed to look up to him. He was really encouraging about it. (His appearance) was uncomfortable because I'm not used to it, but he always had a good attitude, so it was contagious.''
During his visits with Barstus, Hallman showed the same resolve.
``He had a strong sense of optimism,'' Barstus said. ``Jeff's a very focused person. He was able to get his doses on time. Because of that, our ability to cure a person like that increases. He was better than 90 percent of the people I treat. He was a model patient. He would tell us what bothers him so we can talk about it.''
The chemotherapy ended in August. School would soon begin, and Hallman decided he needed to be around everyday life.
``People don't know why I came to work,'' he said. ``At school, there's so much life. You can sort of escape for a while. When you teach, it's a giving thing. I'm not a selfish person, but when you wake up and say, `I have cancer,' you know, if I stayed home, I'd have that thought all day.''
School officials applauded his decision.
``It has been a battle,'' principal Cheryl Brown said. ``His attitude was so positive. There was never a time that I didn't feel he would lose his battle.''
Hallman's battle has inspired his team.
``It makes you think when he was sick, how dedicated he was,'' forward Nick Boone said. ``We thought, `Wow! If it means a lot to him, it should mean a lot to us.' ''
In September, Hallman began radiation treatments with Young. Radiation catches whatever cancer remains. Compared to chemotherapy, radiation is a breeze. In October, a checkup revealed the cancer was in complete remission.
Now comes the waiting.
Barstus said if no cancer returns after two years, the odds it ever will return decrease dramatically and the status ``in remission'' changes to ``probable cure.''
``What's important to understand,'' Barstus said, ``this is what I live for. I live to cure people of cancer. We expect to. It's very gratifying to carry it out, and I have high confidence that he will be cured.''
Hallman's last follow-up visit with Barstus was Jan. 15. He will see Barstus again in March.
Coming through this battle taught Hallman and those close to him the value of life. Now that he has stared down the possibility of living his last days, every day means more.
During the recent winter break, Cindy and Jeff took a trip to Santa Barbara. They in-line skated, just like old times. Cindy said it was a beautiful sight.
``You forget the yucky feeling, the feeling of being alone,'' Cindy said. ``But you never forget you went through cancer. You think you'll never bring the word into your house, but once it's there, you can't live in fear or you can't go on with life.''
Name: Jeff Hallman
Occupation: Social Science teacher, boys' basketball coach at Saugus High
Years as coach: 5 years
Education: Hart High (Class of 1977), Los Angeles Baptist College
Family: Married 16 years to wife Cindy. One adopted daughter, Callie.
3 Photos, Box
PHOTO (1--Color) The cancer which Saugus basketball coach Jeff Hallman has been battling for more than a year is in complete remission.
(2--Color) no caption (Hallman with adopted daughter Callie)
John Lazar / Special to the Daily News
(3) Jeff Hallman has gained back the weight, muscle tone and hair he had lost because of cancer.
David R. Crane / Daily News
BOX: HALLMAN PROFILE (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 28, 1998|
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