Teacher hopes to use cancer diagnosis to inspire others

Tommy Henry during one of his treatments.

Life was going very well for Tommy Henry Jr. going into the summer of the 2019 school year. He was the Newington Elementary Rookie Teacher of the Year, where he is a special education teacher, and he and his wife were expecting their first child.

During the last few weeks of school Henry noticed that he was not quite feeling like himself, he was tired and often had a headache. This puzzled Henry who thought that he took care of himself and lived a particularly healthy lifestyle.

“Overall, I am in pretty good health--I run and train for half marathons, full marathons and triathlons,” Henry said. “I eat a relatively healthy, vegetarian diet, get lots of sleep, etc, everything we are all supposed to do, right?”

Henry had previously survived a bout with cancer in 2015, when he had stage 1 melanoma removed from his brain. His wife then requested that he go in for a CT scan and Henry then went in for an MRI and on June 19th received the results that his melanoma had returned once again. The doctor had found three spots on his brain.

Henry said that the news was very tough to hear and comprehend.

“When you’re 32 years old you think you have your whole life ahead of you. Your plans include raising a child, going on vacation, living your life… not fighting cancer! However, God had a different plan for my life,” Henry said.

Two days following the diagnosis Henry and his wife’s child was born, a son which they named Beau. Henry said that the birth of his son gave him a new found desire to fight and beat cancer.

“The joy that I felt at that moment was nothing I could have imagined and I knew right then and there that my purpose in life and my drive to fight like hell to beat this cancer was my son, Beau,” Henry said.

Following his son’s birth the doctors told Henry that the cancer was stage 4 melanoma. It had spread throughout his body to his bone marrow, lymph system and lining of his lungs. Henry said that the diagnosis shocked him because he had always viewed melanoma as a skin cancer. However, he learned that melanoma is highly aggressive and, until recently, had few treatment options.

Henry has since been undergoing treatment which include radiation therapy to try and kill the cancer cells. He will undergo treatment both in North Charleston and at Duke University.

Henry credits his faith with helping him through this difficult time in his life. He said that the cancer diagnosis was difficult to deal with but now realizes that he can use this to help others in the same situation.

“This diagnosis is not something I would wish upon anyone, and after taking time to process my diagnosis, I started to realize that God has chosen me to live this life and make this part of my testimony. My prayer has always been that God would use me as His hands and feet, I just never thought this would be the way he wished for me to do it,” Henry said. “I believe in the power of prayer, I believe that God can and will heal me, and I believe that one day, this will all be a story to tell— a part of my testimony—to help someone else battling the same diagnosis as myself.”

Henry’s family is holding a benefit for him on October 5th at Knightsville United Methodist Church. The event will be a fish fry where food plates purchased will go toward helping Henry and his family.