April and Steven Huff Lexington, Kentucky

Steven's Legacy: Huffs' Battle vs. Cancer Wages On

The late Steven Huff with his wife, April, and daughter, Claire.

Feb. 15, 2024

It was supposed to be the happiest time of the Huffs’ lives.

April had just given birth to their first child three months earlier. She had returned to work as a teacher and her husband, Steven, was trying to do what any first-time father does: figure out this entirely new and incredible responsibility of parenthood.

But Steven wasn’t feeling quite right. Weeks earlier, he had gone on a guys’ golf trip for a quick break but came back feeling exhausted and sick.

He bounced around from his general physician to walk-in clinics with varying but equally draining symptoms every day until, finally, on Oct. 11, 2018, Steven’s father forced him to go to the emergency room at Baptist Health in Lexington.

April’s father-in-law cut straight to the chase in the call to her: ‘I’m coming to get you. You need to get to the emergency room now. They think Steven has leukemia.”

“The next thing I know, I’m sitting in the office of the school … and I just kept repeating, ‘But we have a baby. We have a baby,’” April said. “My world was forever changed. … I just knew it was going to be hell on earth.”

Steven was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in the blood-forming class of the bone marrow and interferes with the production of normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

AML is aggressive, and Steven’s numbers were so high that the medical staff told April that Steven’s leukemic white blood cell count was the highest they had ever seen in a person who walked into the ER under their own power.

“They said if we would have waited a day or two longer, he probably would have died from undiagnosed leukemia,” April said.

Steven was transferred to the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center to undergo immediate leukapheresis – essentially a filtering process of white blood cells from the bloodstream – and then chemotherapy. Soon after, the Huffs relocated to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the world’s leaders in cancer care, to tackle the diagnosis head on.

And for a while, they were winning. Between the daily cocktails of drugs and chemo, blood transfusions and a stem cell transplant, Steven reached remission. He was just 10 days away from returning home to Lexington for what was supposed to be a 100-day post-stem cell transplant recovery.

But as soon as April walked in the door in Lexington to get the house ready, the phone rang. It was Steven. He had relapsed.

That’s when the true “hell on earth” that April feared really set in. The treatment plans started all over again, but nothing worked this time. April watched as her 6-foot-3, 220-pound husband whittled down to 150 pounds of skin and bones.

Steven Huff died on March 17, 2020.

Steven’s legacy has lived on through April and their now 5-year-old daughter, Claire. April, who is now a campaign development manager at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, is making sure that Steven lives on by finding a cure for blood cancers and improving the quality of life for patients and their families.

One way to do that is through blood donation, which April had no idea about when this all began.

“I had no idea how vital blood and platelets were going to be for our journey,” April said. “I was so naïve.  I was like, ‘Can you just give him my blood?’ I remember asking that because I was so clueless … to how it all worked, but you learn pretty quickly.”

In reality, many don’t understand the process of matching blood and the importance of donation. One in four people will need a blood transfusion in their lifetime, many because of cancer. Approximately 25% of the blood supply goes to patients battling cancer.

Steven was consistently in need of blood products to fight the effects of leukemia as well as to replenish the blood cells that were lost from the side effects of approximately 16 rounds of chemo.

“I believe blood and platelets are just as important as the medication and treatment options that are necessary to fight cancer,” April said. “They can be the difference between life and death as well. If you look at the holistic approach, they need all those things to survive.”

On top of everything else the Huffs were dealing with, there were times when Steven had to wait for available blood.

“It’s very scary,” April said. “You just feel like it’s so out of your control. … I remember sitting there hoping and wishing that this blood will come through because he needs it so badly right now, and hoping and praying that someone will step up and do the right thing and give.”

If April can help alleviate some of those fears for the next spouse, parent or sibling, Steven’s legacy will live on.

“It can truly save someone’s life,” April said. “Being able to find that time and prioritizing someone’s life above their own is probably one of the greatest blessings you can do.”

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About the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Sociate is at the forefront of the fight to cure blood cancer. LLS is the largest nonprofit dedicated to creating a world without blood cancers. Since 1949, LLS has invested more than $1.7 billion in groundbreaking research, pioneering many of today's most innovative approaches.

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About Kentucky Blood Center

KBC, the largest independent, full-service, nonprofit blood center in Kentucky, has been saving local lives since 1968. Licensed by the FDA, KBC’s sole purpose is to collect, process and distribute blood for patients in Kentucky. KBC provides services in 90 Kentucky counties and has donor centers in Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort, Pikeville, Somerset and the Tri-County area (Corbin).