It was the Tuesday before the start of the PPR season. My cell phone is always buzzing this time of the year so I didn’t think twice when I saw Kevin Coffin’s name appear on the screen.
“Paul, I’ve got some bad news. I won’t be able to work Friday.” Our east county live truck operator was speaking in such a soft voice I could barely hear him. But his message hit like a sledgehammer. To understand the significance of Kevin’s dispatch you first must understand how much water he carries for the show. Coffin’s Friday mornings start as the sun comes up for the Alarm Clock Pep Rally. In the event you’ve never witnessed one of these pep rallies in person, you’ll just have to take my word for it - they are pure chaos. Allie Wagner has it tough; her cameraman Kevin Coffin has it tougher if only because the camera limits your field of vision. Cheerleaders are flipping, trombones are blaring, and mascots are “mascoting” all while a studio producer is shouting (mostly unheard) in your ear. It’s nerve racking. Working the pep rally is a full day all by itself. It’s not even lunch time and you’re already exhausted.
After the morning is over, Kevin returns to the station and has maybe an hour or two to nap before taking his live truck to the campus of the El Cajon Ford East County Game of the Week. From 4:30 pm to midnight, it’s an endless series of live shots, video feeds, game highlights, more live shots, and finally, when the show is over, you pack up the truck, return to the station, unpack the truck and then and only then, the day is over.
Suffice it to say; to lose Kevin on a Friday night is more than a big deal. He’s won our “Golden Tripod Trophy” (awarded annually to the PPR’s top videographer) twice for a reason. In fact, he’s the only two-time winner in show history. When he calls out it takes three people to replace him. But when I walked into the TV station after Coffin’s phone call I could tell something wasn’t right. Moments later, I was informed Kevin was taking a medical leave of absence. The concerned looks of my co-workers made it obvious our Kevin was facing serious medical issues.
“Testicular cancer, stage 4”, Coffin later informed me in a matter-of-fact tone. “I got what Lance got.” Kevin’s reference to Lance Armstrong was somewhat uplifting, if only because Armstrong is a cancer survivor who rallied to overcome his diagnosis and win the Tour De France seven times. “Lance had it worse than me. His cancer had spread to his brain; mine has only spread to the lungs and spine.” When that fact is the “good news” of your diagnosis you know you’re in for some hard times ahead.
Coffin’s life changed overnight. “One day I’m 32 years old, and I think I am invincible. The next day I’m getting wheeled into surgery.” But removing the tumor was only step one. Because the cancer has spread to other parts of his body, Coffin must now endure 12 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy. “Chemo days are often five hours long. It’s not a picnic,” admits Coffin.
But as tough as the treatment is the hardest part was telling his parents and using the C word. “Months in and I still have a hard time saying ‘I have cancer’, so calling my mom with the news was devastating. She started crying on the phone and naturally I started crying too.” says Coffin.
In the KUSI sports office we often referred to Kevin as “The Mule”. He does his job as well as anybody and better than most. He never complains about the heavy load we put on his shoulders. It should come as no surprise those same traits apply to Coffin the cancer patient. “My friends and family are absolutely getting me through this. If I took everybody up on their offer of help I’d never have to do anything again,” chuckles Coffin.
Last Friday, Coffin returned to his alma mater of West Hills to make a brief PPR cameo from the Wolfpack stands. I included the video link here:
It was the best five seconds of last week’s show. “Paul, you know I’m uncomfortable being the focus of any story. It’s just not my style. But if cancer has taught me anything it’s this. Everybody knows somebody who’s in the same boat as me. I always remind myself that I am not alone.”
When asked what advice he has for others facing a similar ordeal, Coffin is more than candid. “That’s why this month (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) is so important. I ignored my symptoms way too long. Anybody reading this shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed to get checked for testicular cancer. It’s very common in young men and can be easily dealt with, especially if it’s caught early.”
The hope is that Kevin will return to the show in 2018 but at the moment he’s more focused on the day-to-day of treatment. “If chemo and cancer teaches you anything it’s to temper your long-range planning,” reflects Coffin. “The hardest part is actually all the downtime; there is only so much Netflix a person can watch.”
Kevin obviously hasn’t gotten around to binging on season one of Ozark or season three of Narcos or is unaware that season two of Stranger Things is about to drop; but we do understand his sentiment. But speaking on behalf of everyone who proudly wears a Red Jacket, we want Kevin to know his spot on our roster is waiting for him, no matter how long it takes. And Mr. Coffin, you most certainly are not alone. Not when you have the entire Red Jacket Army in your corner.