Tennessee offers dozens of specialty license plates that support worthy causes. We’ve all seen them featured on cars in front of us while driving or on a wall at the clerk’s office while renewing our registrations. You can find one for nearly anything you want to support – except
lung cancer awareness. That’s where The Huff Project comes in.
In Spring, 2017, after receiving a shocking diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer at twenty-nine years old, Stephen Huff, a Franklin native and Centennial High School teacher, noticed a breast cancer awareness specialty plate and thought he would look for one that supported lung
cancer awareness. He found nothing.
Not long before that, after playing major league baseball for the White Sox and returning home to Franklin, Stephen noticed something was wrong. He started experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing. Soon, a chronic cough and a swollen lymph node were misdiagnosed as bronchitis. Antibiotics were ineffective. Stephen and his now-wife, Emily, were two months away from being married when, after more testing, a doctor broke the news to Stephen. Everything came to a screeching halt. “When you get that diagnosis, you feel like your whole world has been turned upside down.” said Stephen.
Stephen never smoked. As a matter of fact, according to the American Cancer Society, 65% of new lung cancer cases occur in former smokers and people who have never smoked. That’s a pretty high percentage for the number-one cause of cancer-related deaths in America.
Unfortunately, lung cancer gets a bad rap. When someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, instead of sympathy, the response that people can’t help but to have is, “Did you smoke?” In fact, Stephen said, “I was guilty of it myself. The first words out of my mouth when he told me I had cancer were, ‘But I’ve never smoked!’” The Huffs decided that they wanted to fight the negative stigma of lung cancer and create a Lung Cancer Awareness specialty license plate for Tennessee. “Someone dealing with this type of disease shouldn’t have to worry about the shame. They should just worry about getting better, focusing on their treatments, and how they can live a healthier life,” said Stephen.
The Huff Project was founded in 2018 and began raising money and pre-orders for the license plate and awareness for lung cancer. “We took it as an opportunity to ask ourselves, what can we do to change this stigma? What can we do to show the world that the only thing you have
to do to get lung cancer is have lungs?” said Stephen. Before they knew it, they found themselves wanting to do more.
The Huff Project’s first fundraising event, “Chip-In for Lung Cancer Golf Scramble,” took place in October 2018. The next month, they hosted a Songwriters Night at The Factory in Franklin. They raised just under $100,000 that year, donating $25,000 of it to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In 2019, they raised a little more at each event and have now donated over $60,000 to lung cancer research here in middle Tennessee. “We never thought it was possible,” Stephen said. “It just takes a bit of ingenuity and the will to want to do it.”
The Huff Project is planning this year’s golf scramble and songwriters night for this October and November which is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Tickets will be available at thehuffproject.org. You may go online today and pre-order your own Lung Cancer Awareness specialty license plate in support of The Huff Project’s meaningful cause.