Police sergeant, lymphoma survivor rallies his troops to raise awareness for breast cancer research
October 10, 2016 | by Michael Easterling
San Diego Police Sergeant Ed Headtke has always been a “good guy.” As a kid, he loved playing cops and robbers, and he was consistently the constable on patrol catching the “bad guys.” His aspirations to become a peace officer as an adult came true 36 years ago, when he joined the force at the San Diego Community College District Police, where he remains today.
As a real-life cop, he’s had his share of life-threatening moments over the years, but none perhaps hitting home closer than his cancer diagnosis two years ago.
After seeing a doctor for what he was sure was kidney stones, Headtke was told that he had follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Tumors growing near his heart were treated with eight months of chemotherapy. Thinking he was in the clear, a follow-up appointment revealed that he had developed diffuse large b-cell lymphoma, a more aggressive form of the cancer. A tumor growing in his upper thigh was large enough to be visible beneath his skin. That’s when he was referred to City of Hope for treatment and an eventual bone marrow transplant (BMT), which he received from his own donated stem cells.
“I didn’t know what to expect through any of this, but I was pleased as punch with City of Hope and the care I received,” says Headtke, who received his BMT just nine days after being admitted. “The doctors and nurses knew exactly how I’d be feeling on any given day, right down to the minute. And they were right every time. For what it was, it was a fantastic experience.”
Headtke says a highlight of his month-long stay at City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital was taking in the view of the San Gabriel Mountains from the sixth floor front lobby. He would also amuse himself watching the rush hour traffic along the 605 and 210 freeways. “I didn’t have to be in that traffic,” he says. “And that was oddly comforting to me. I found myself laughing at people stuck in traffic and I was in a good place.”
Headtke considers April 9, 2015, as his “new birthday.” Emerging from the hospital healthier than ever and back on the force, he knew he wanted to do something to support City of Hope and help create more life-changing experiences for patients like him. When his police chief mentioned the Pink Patch Project, he knew he had found his philanthropic calling. He talked to members of the police department in Irwindale, California, who started the breast cancer awareness campaign last year and solely raised more than $20,000 for City of Hope cancer research through the sale of customized pink police patches.
Now in its second year, nearly 70 police agencies in Los Angeles and Orange counties are on board, and now, thanks to Headtke, San Diego is now part of the equation.
“We’re a big district, with three colleges, six continuing education sites and more than 100,000 students,” says Headtke, who set a first-year goal of $5,000. “That’s a lot of outreach, a lot of patches and potentially a lot of money raised for City of Hope.”
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