Basketball (specifically, Bobby Knight) brought a young J.C. Hulls to Bloomington–J.C.’s father was an assistant coach for Bobby Knight. In high school at Bloomington North, J.C. proved his skills as a basketball player. As the Head Coach of Indiana Elite AAU Girls and Boys Basketball teams and a personal/team basketball trainer, he shares his love and dedication to the sport with Hoosier youth. “Workouts for my students aren’t easy. It’s all old school fundamentals,” says J.C. It’s only natural that he expects nothing less of himself, even when facing cancer.
A family rooted in Bloomington
J.C. and his wife Joni have been together since they were about sixteen, together raising four children and several Bloomington-based businesses. Their dedication to their children and their passion is infectious, as is J.C.’s approach to basketball and life. He has been able to imprint his drive to improve his skills in his children and his student athletes, who form a tight-knit, caring community around him.
When a typical spring cold took hold of J.C. in March, he continued coaching and took some over-the-counter medications to fight the symptoms. “I noticed a little lump on the side of my neck, but I didn’t think too much about it,” J.C. recalls. As April’s basketball tournaments began, Joni noticed that the lump was getting bigger, but J.C. shrugged it off as a side effect of his cold. A few concerned parents of his student athletes even asked him about the lump. He decided to ask a physician friend for his opinion, who recommended J.C. see an ear nose and throat specialist soon.
Building the right team
“Sometimes people can get a knot on their neck if it’s a cold or a swollen lymph node, but if it’s a firm knot it’s more concerning,” says Dr. Sarpa. “So I told J.C. if that’s been there a while and it’s this firm…it’s something I don’t like.”
“Dr. Sarpa said ‘your tonsil looks irregular and in fact, it could be cancer,’” recalls J.C. “The good thing is that it’s curable.’”
“I just remember hearing two words: ‘cancer’…which is always a shock…and ‘curable.’”
A biopsy confirmed J.C. had tonsillar cancer, a cancer that is curable with the right course of treatment. When faced with cancer, J.C.’s first response was: “What do we need to do? Let’s get after it.” “Everybody reacts differently when confronted with ‘the C-word,’” says Dr. Sarpa. “I tell everybody the same thing: when we find definitive information, we act on it. I try to keep people from letting their mind wander and worry; J.C. was very level headed.”
“I appreciated the way Dr. Sarpa was straightforward with me…that’s how I am myself. My cancer team came with a strong attack plan.” J.C. and Joni gathered their family and shared the news, along with the plan of attack.
A full-court press on cancer
With his cancer team in place, J.C. charged headlong into his treatment. “We spent a great amount of time going over everything that would happen, all the technology, treatments and terminology with my family,” says J.C. “We had everything we needed right here…there was no reason to go anywhere other than Bloomington for treatment. We’ve got great doctors, great staff and great technology.”
After Dr. Sarpa successfully removed the cancerous tonsil, Radiation Oncologist David Lee, MD, a physician on the IU Health Bloomington Hospital Medical Staff, was trusted to guide J.C.’s ongoing treatments to the surrounding tissue, beginning with state-of-the-art radiation at the IU Health Cancer Radiation Center in Bloomington. “RapidArc technology and adaptive radiation therapy allows for precise, quick and efficient targeting of cancerous tissues and were key players in J.C.’s attack on cancer,” says Dr. Lee. “Continuously monitoring the treatment area for changes in the tumor or anatomy and customizing treatments enhances the accuracy and impact of the treatment. This approach means shorter treatment times and fewer side effects than traditional radiation treatment.”
J.C.’s “workouts” & a unique lesson
J.C.’s treatment plan also included chemotherapy and some side effects, but he was still able to do what he loved. This helped him approach his cancer with the same determination as coaching. “I had my ‘workouts’ with cancer and I could still keep my workouts with students,” says J.C. “I could still coach, teach, and yell. Basketball was my normal routine…what I loved to do. It kept me in a state of normal.”
“You can’t control that workout [cancer and treatment] but you can control your attitude and what you’re going to do today,” says J.C. Demonstrating a coaching ability that reaches far beyond basketball skills, J.C. proved what true determination, the right team and a solid plan of attack can accomplish. He’s now on the road to recovery and eager to continue preparing young Hoosier athletes for challenges both on and off the court.