Football, Family, and Fighting: Wife of Aztecs Coach Shares Story of Beating Cancer Hoping to Save Others

Hecklinski family is spreading the importance of colon cancer testing

Jeff Hecklinski is the offensive coordinator at San Diego State. He’s well aware of the fact you can’t be a successful football coach without a tough, understanding better half.

His wife, Tiffany, is the daughter of a college football coach. She gets how this profession works. In 2010, Jeff was on San Diego State’s staff with Brady Hoke, helping the Aztecs to a winning record for the first time in 12 years, and their first bowl win since 1969 when Don Coryell was on Montezuma Mesa.

During that season Tiffany started having pain in her side, something doctors wrote off with little concern and a prescription for pain medication. She dealt with the pain because they had three kids and other things to worry about.

“Like so many other moms out there who I’m sure can relate, we take care of everyone else before ourselves,” says Tiffany.

The next year Jeff joined Hoke on the Michigan coaching staff. The pain got worse, so one night Tiffany went to an Ann Arbor Urgent Care, hoping to get back before her husband had to leave for football camp.

The doctor changed those plans immediately.

“He was like, we need to take you to the Emergency Room,” says Tiffany. “I said no, no, no, I have to get back. My husband has to go to camp at 7:00. The doctor said you’re probably having surgery. Right now.”

An MRI revealed a mass that needed immediate attention.

“They took out two feet of my colon, like, 36 lymph nodes, and 24 hours later I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer,” says Tiffany.

At the age of 37, with no family history, she was in for one hell of a fight. This is where being in a football family can be a literal lifesaver.

“Being part of a coaching staff is so helpful because you don’t live near family. So many of the coaches wives would take me to appointments. Laura Hoke was just such a rock, making sure I had everything I needed and checking in with us.”

They don’t like the spotlight, but Brady and Laura Hoke do things the right way. Most coaches at the highest level put winning first. The Wolverines were preparing for the Sugar Bowl, Tiffany had to go to the hospital. Her mother went to practice to tell Jeff.

“Jeff saw my mom and immediately knew something was wrong. He went over and my mom said they just too T to the Emergency Room, I think you need to go. Coach (Hoke) came over and said what’s going on? Jeff said Tiffany’s in the Emergency Room, I don’t know. Then Brady said Go. You’ve gotta go.”

That kind of support is rare in major collegiate athletics. During this time Jeff was trying help his wife like a football coach does: make a game plan and give it everything you have.

“At one point they said she needs more fish. So, he went to Whole Foods to get everything organic. He came home with shrimp and salmon and all this stuff and he was cooking it, and I was so sick. I was in bed 23 hours a day, hospitalized numerous times. He’s like, you need to eat this salmon. I said you need to stop. I need, like, McDonalds. Filet O’Fish was the only thing I could keep down.”

Since we’re talking to her, you already know this story is a good one. Tiffany is now 10 years cancer-free, and during that time she’s made it her mission to spread the word about colorectal cancer. The age group of those impacted is getting younger and younger, so she wants to make sure everyone knows about the importance of getting a colonoscopy.

“I promise they’re not that bad. I promise. I know everyone is thinking oh my gosh, but that’s 24 hours of my life that I’m gonna lose. I lost a year. I know people who have lost their whole lives to colorectal cancer. 24 hours isn’t bad. And, it’s like a cleanse. You get all cleaned out. We’re in Southern California. People love cleanses here! So, this is like a good thing.”

Credit to Tiffany for finding the positive spin on a colonoscopy, and she’s right. Plus, March is national colorectal cancer awareness month. Anyone having any kind of pain or a change in stools, it’s better to be safe than sorry. For more information visit the Colorectal Cancer Alliance at

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