In early November, Post Falls High football coach Jeff Hinz said his left hip started hurting.
He thought it was a charley horse, but the pain didn’t go away. The pain spread to his leg, but visits to urgent care and his doctor revealed nothing unusual.
Then, walking around the house on Thanksgiving morning, Hinz put all his weight on his left leg, and his femur snapped in half. The bone snapped in his thigh, just below the hip joint.
He was rushed to the hospital for surgery, where doctors did some scans – and found Hinz had a tumor in his leg, and a tumor in his lung.
A visit to doctors on Tuesday revealed the official diagnosis. Though word of his illness has spread through the school and beyond in recent weeks, Hinz wanted to wait to find out exactly what the diagnosis was before speaking publicly.
“I have non-smoker’s adenocarcinoma,” Hinz said Wednesday. “In layman’s terms, it’s called non-smoker’s lung cancer.”
The tumor started in his lung, traveled to the hip bone, and settled in his leg.
Hinz is 42, a non-smoker, and said the doctors “seem real positive,” about his chances of surviving the cancer.
They found a spot about the size of a quarter in his lung, and a tumor about the size of a plum in his upper thigh, just below the hip joint.
“The bad news is, it’s lung cancer,” Hinz said. “The positive news is, there are three different strains of lung cancer, and the strain that I have is the most treatable form of lung cancer. And, with the proper regimen of medication, I have a good chance of living a normal life.”
He said he plans to start radiation treatments on the cancer in his leg today.
An MRI of Hinz’s brain (he said lung cancer often spreads there as well) revealed no cancer there. Hinz has a rod in his left leg, from his hip to his knee, and has been resting at home since the Thanksgiving incident.
He does not know when he will be able to return to teaching – he’s laid up at home because of his leg, not the cancer.
Hinz and his doctors said it was almost a blessing in disguise that his leg snapped, because who knows if or when the cancer would have been diagnosed otherwise.
Breaking the news to his wife, Natalie, and their three children “was a pretty surreal day,” Hinz said.
Hinz, head coach of the Trojans the past nine seasons, said he has told his football team about the situation, and being a Coeur d’Alene High grad, he has heard from several members of the Viking family. Coeur d’Alene High coach Shawn Amos, who diagnosed in October with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, was among those who visited him in the hospital in the days after surgery. Hinz was in the hospital for four days after surgery.
“I’m positive,” Hinz said of how he’s handling things. “I want to get through this and teach and coach. I’m not going to whine about it and worry about it. I’m going to fight it.”
Hinz, who teaches social studies, said he is “in a lot of discomfort,” but said all the well-wishes have helped.
“I really appreciate all the texts and emails and phone calls from students, players and coaches at Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene,” Hinz said. “I’m looking forward to being able to return to teaching and coaching.”