Late last month, Joe Hughes turned to social media to announce his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes.
In the weeks since, the former Xavier basketball player has used Twitter to tell jokes, provide updates and connect with new friends.
It turns out he has people everywhere pulling for him. And lots of them are tweeting about it.
The news hit Hughes, 24, hard, and his medical tests and treatments have, too. The best news he’s shared on Twitter is that doctors told him there’s a 90 percent survival rate when Hodgkin’s lymphoma is found and treated properly.
A walk-on at Xavier from 2007-11, Hughes works as an accountant in Cincinnati. He grew up in Indianapolis, and on the day before his first chemotherapy treatment last week he received a hand-written note from Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who missed a chunk of last season while battling leukemia. The Colts adopted the motto of #ChuckStrong during Pagano’s fight, and several of Hughes’ friends have started using #HughesStrong on Twitter.
That Twitter campaign has led to another, more public display of support for Hughes’ fight back on Xavier’s campus.
The week of his diagnosis, Hughes presented the MVP trophy after the Xavier-Dayton rivalry game to Xavier guard Dee Davis. He then spoke to some reporters for the first time about what’s ahead and the support he already had received, and he took some liberties when it came to his close friend and current Xavier senior guard Brad Redford.
“Joe, just being his sarcastic self, told the media that Brad had promised to shave his head in a show of support if a certain tweet got to 1,000 retweets,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “This was unbeknownst to Brad. They had never even talked about that.
“I think Brad felt too much pressure not to go through with it. No one there that night knew it was a practical joke. That’s Joe Hughes in a nutshell.”
The tweet sent by Xavier graduate assistant and Hughes’ former teammate, Dante Jackson, eventually got the requisite number of retweets. Redford, though, had already made up his mind to shave his head, and the iPhone video cameras were rolling when Redford got his buzz cut.
“Joe’s reaction when he saw it was laughter, and a lot of it,” Redford said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joe laugh that hard. These guys know I’ve never worn my hair this short, and that I’ve taken both time and pride in making sure my hair looks good. They’d bust me on that. And now they’re really having fun with it.”
Xavier reserve forward Erik Stenger and several team managers have shaved their heads, too. The #HughesStrong effort has continued on Twitter, with Mack and former Xavier coach Sean Miller, now at Arizona, also offering public support and more of Hughes friends, in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, tweeting pictures of their freshly-shaved heads.
“I see (Redford) every day but it was a little different at the beginning. We’re still getting used to his new look,” Mack said. “It’s for a great cause. Joe is not only a great friend of Brad’s but of our entire program. We’re praying for him.”
Hughes said his initial reaction to his diagnosis was “natural, to cry” and wonder why it happened. He’s now focusing on pushing through his treatments, which doctors have said will last six to eight months, to get healthy and have him at 100 percent for his marriage to longtime girlfriend Kelly Hanley, scheduled for the summer of 2014.
“It was definitely tough to hear,” Hughes said. “I was scared. You think about the worst.
“I’ve tried to focus on the positive. You can always think about the negatives. I try to stay as a positive as I can. It’s very cool to see how much support I’ve already received from friends, family and the Xavier community in general. It’s very cool.”