Tony Pottorff isn’t letting cancer slow him down.
Since being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer June 13, Pottorff has coached cross-country at Northside Middle School, and he’s preparing to coach track and field at Central Middle School this spring. He still tries to run when his time and health permit.
In the meantime, the 46-year-old social studies teacher at Columbus East has continued in his role as the school’s concessions manager.
“I’ve been blessed with an awesome support system — my church family, my wife and daughters for sure — and the people here at East have been phenomenal,” Pottorff said. “It’s made it easier. If I had to do all that I had in the past, I couldn’t have gotten through it, but with the support system, it’s been easier.”
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That support system includes wife Margie and daughters Amanda and Delaney. Also, it includes the athletics and social studies communities at East.
Since learning of Tony’s diagnosis, the organizations working the concession stand at Olympians sporting events have been donating their share of the profits to help with his medical bills. Softball coach Rusty Brummett said that can range from $200 to $300 for an average basketball game to $600 to $800 for a game against Columbus North.
“With as much as he does for not only our athletic programs, but the other students that are here at the school, it just seemed like an easy fit,” Brummett said.
Tony’s ordeal began about a year before his diagnosis when he noticed a bump on his chest. He kept bumping the growth on things, so he thought it would go away.
Then last May, Margie noticed the bump and suggested he get it checked.
“In a million years, I never would have thought it was breast cancer,” Tony said. “I just thought it was an irritation.”
Tony started treatment at the end of June. After a few plateaus and growths with the cancer over the latter part of 2017, he began chemotherapy Jan. 3.
With chemo scheduled once every three weeks, Tony has had two rounds so far. His third is scheduled for Wednesday at Community South Hospital in Indianapolis.
“At first, I went through a great deal of mourning because it was such a severe diagnosis,” Margie said. “Having Stage 4 breast cancer for a guy is kind of unheard of. So having to adjust our life around that. I think was tough on all of us, so we had to go through the grieving period. But we’ve become a lot stronger together.”
Tony has lost most of his hair. The cancer is in both of his lungs, around his heart, under his left arm in lymph nodes and in his left hip bone.
His cancer still is considered stable and not curable, but treatable.
“My oncologist has mentioned that if we’re aggressive enough with this, she thinks that remission is possible, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Tony said. “There is a lot of hope. We have hope in God.”
Margie said the past year has been a journey, but the community has come together in a big way to rally behind them.
In the meantime, Margie has started writing a book about that journey. She currently is on Chapter 2.
“It’s a way for me to get it out because I need to be there and be strong for my two girls and for my husband,” Margie said. “It’s going to take awhile. It’s going to be a labor of love, but it’s something for me to do that enables me to get a release without putting that pressure on my husband.”
Tony’s colleagues are helping relieve that pressure. Social studies department chair Greg Lewis and social studies teacher and girls golf coach Troy Buntin said the department’s teachers help cover for each other when they’re gone, such as the case with Tony’s chemo treatments. The social studies department and other faculty worked the concession stand at Saturday’s boys basketball game and will again at the Feb. 23 East gymnastics sectional.
Meanwhile, the Pottorffs have hope that Tony can recover. As Margie put it, there was one bad diagnosis, but for every bad diagnosis, there’s 10 good things that they can look forward to.
“We talk about our fears and our hopes, and we put a lot of trust and faith in God,” Margie said. “We’re to a point now where we’re pretty strong with it, and we know that it’s going to be the fight of his life, but we also know that we can do it because God is much bigger than a diagnosis.”
Name: Tony Pottorff
High school: Roncalli
Colleges: IUPUI (undergrad), Indiana Wesleyan (Master’s)
Occupation: Social studies teacher and concessions manager at Columbus East High School, cross-country coach at Northside Middle School, track coach at Central Middle School
Family: Wife Margie; daughters Amanda, 17, a junior at East; and Delaney, 12, a seventh-grader at Northside