CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. — A beloved high school teacher is sharing his battle with colon cancer online with all of his former students and athletes.
41-year-old Justin Harnden, known to many of his students and co-workers as "Mr. H," says he feels like sharing these vulnerable moments with the world is helping him to gather strength and take stock of all the wonderful people in his life.
“Regardless of what hand you're dealt, regardless of the situation you're in, you can take a positive spin on it,” Harnden told FOX 17 in an interview Friday morning.
“I think I'm a teacher, and a coach, and a person, and director that really loves personal connections and relationships, and you try to leave those kids with that... you try to leave those students with that... and your players with that.”
Harnden found himself in the emergency room less than a month ago when he just wasn't feeling like himself. He felt like his appetite and energy levels were lower than normal.
”My ER doctor came in and said, 'We got the scans back,' and she sat down.... and I don't think it's ever a good thing when a doctor sits down to tell you something."
He was diagnosed with colon cancer.
"Then it was a whirlwind of stuff, and how things go, and oncology meetings... I've learned more in 22 days than I did, I think, in my undergrad and my two masters courses," he said with a smile.
He had surgery on July 10, of course dealing with a few down moments, but ready to fight. But, he wouldn't have to go at it alone.
“I actually started to get to know Justin because he was a teacher of mine when I was in high school and then I graduated... I got a job teaching in Cedar, and we continue to stay in touch,” explained Kyle Avink on Friday.
Avink is now an assistant principal with Rockford Schools, and also close friends with Harnden.
“He's the person that when you graduate from high school, like that is the person that has made a difference in my life," he said.
The network of people who began reaching out to Mr. H was simply overwhelming, prompting him and several close friends to begin sharing his cancer battle via the FigHt - You can't spell fight without H Facebook page.
"I think by being vulnerable, it doesn't make anybody weaker; I think it makes them stronger, and I think it offers a much bigger chance of growth and success,” Harnden said Friday.
Former students are now sharing videos of themselves singing songs from theater performances that Mr. H. oversaw.
“He is committed to being a success story, and I 100 percent believe that if there's somebody that's going to do it, it's going to be him," Avink said.
It's abundantly clear the massive positive impression he has left on those who have come through his classroom.
“It's brought my family closer; it's brought my friends closer," Harnden said.
"It's shown me that... I thought I had a huge network; now I know I have a huge network."
You can follow along with Mr. H's journey at the FigHt - You can't spell fight without H Facebook page.
You can donate toward his medical costs at the GoFundMe page set up for Mr. H.