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Local cancer survivor “fights back” through Relay for Life
It is not just an event that seeks a cure.
Those in remission also gathered around South Kitsap’s track — and thousands of high schools around the country — to celebrate survival last week during the annual Relay for Life.
Among them was Matthew Hoggins, 33, who graduated from South in 1997.
In 2002, Hoggins was diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer, after he began experiencing frequent headaches.
“They were gradually getting worse and worse,” said Hoggins, who worked as at a plumbing wholesaler at the time. “I answered the phone and was just speaking gibberish.”
Survival rates for Hoggins’ form of cancer are high when it is caught early, but his reached Stage IV — the most deadly.
“I was told to go home and get my affairs in order,” Hoggins said. “I initially was told that I had four months — or less — to live.”
Hoggins said surgery to remove the tumor was successful and through intense radiation and prayer, he will celebrate 10 years of survival since his diagnosis in September.
A baseball cap usually covers the horseshoe-like scar on the left side of the back of his head, but it is not the only reminder of trauma his brain suffered during the surgery. Hoggins said he has suffered some stroke-like attacks during the last decade and lost peripheral vision in his right eye.
But he said his most significant disability became apparent when he tried to write to chronicle his experiences in a book. After writing four or five chapters, Hoggins said his newfound inability to read made that project too cumbersome. Instead, his daughter Nora’s birth in 2006 gave him new inspiration: He would write a children’s book.
After starting that book, Hoggins’ grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer, while a biopsy revealed that his mother had skin cancer.
In 2010, Hoggins had his book, “Nora’s Pink Boots” produced by Tate Publishing & Enterprises of Oklahoma. The book, which is a compilation of his family’s experiences through cancer, centers on a father taking his daughter shoe shopping. The child’s mother had died of cancer. It can be purchased online at http://matthewhoggins.com/
Hoggins, who had no professional writing experience prior to publishing the book, said writing was cathartic. He described himself as an avid reader before his surgery, particularly of comic books. He credited his wife, Amanda, for helping him become an author.
“I do a lot of proofreading,” Amanda said. “He can write all day long.”
Hoggins said that is helpful because reading remains difficult for him. He said he reads at a similar level to his daughter, who now is in kindergarten.
“Slow, but steady,” Hoggins said. “Reading is my biggest annoyance. I still hold out hope I will get there one day.”
Those challenges have not quelled his passion for writing. He said he is “fine-tuning” a prequel to his book.
Hoggins said he donates some of his proceeds to the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life. He teamed with other local authors, such as Crystal Marcos and Natalie Newport, with a goal to raise more than $2,000. Hoggins said he did not have financial figures immediately after the event, but believes his group surpassed that goal.
“This kind of became a passion of mine because of that,” he said, referring to Relay for Life. “It’s our way to fight back.”