Photo by Austin Hronich/The Simpsonian
Photo by Austin Hronich/The Simpsonian

Henken leads Simpson football after cancer scare

September 18, 2018

Senior offensive lineman Carter Henken was told he may never play football again. What’s worse, he was told he may never have kids or start a family. Doctors told him he might have something no person wants to hear: cancer.

In late July, Henken went in for his yearly physical in his hometown of Forest City. All was normal, until the doctor found a mass on the left side of his scrotum. He was referred to Mason City to do an ultrasound, and he waited nearly three weeks for his test results to come back.

Life’s crazy. The one big thing I pulled out of this is just staying positive.

— Carter Henken

“I’m not going to say I wasn’t scared at all,” Henken said. “I talked with my family and the doctors, and they told me to hope for the best. You can say that all you want, but there’s still going to be that feeling inside you of, ‘What if this is bad?’ or ‘What if it doesn’t go the right way?”

Henken finally got a call from the doctor, and it was news that he didn’t want to hear. He needed to undergo surgery to remove his testicle because there was a high chance it could be cancerous.

“I just felt my stomach drop,” Henken said. “I felt sick to my stomach for a second.”

The only way for the doctors to tell if the lump was cancerous was to go in through the abdomen, remove the testicle and perform a biopsy.

One of his best friends and fellow senior offensive lineman, Mat Wingerson was one of the first people to know about Henken’s situation.

“He gave me a call and he usually doesn’t call me,” Wingerson said. “I thought that it was something big, and I need to call back. We kind of talked about it, and he dropped the news. Obviously with a big procedure like that, I was pretty concerned.”

Henken had the surgery right away, only a couple weeks before the start of football camp. The recovery time was short, but painful.

“I’ve had a couple knee surgeries, but it was probably one of the more painful surgeries I’ve had,” Henken said. “Being in the area that it was in, you don’t really realize how often you use your abdomen, until it hurts to use your abdomen.”

While waiting for the results from the biopsy, Henken tried to continue on with his daily routine. He went back to school for the start of football camp and tried helping his teammates while he was on the sidelines. A two-year starter and captain of the team, Henken knew he had to be there for his guys.

“Even when he wasn’t able to practice with us, he was still like an extension of me,” offensive line coach Bill Queisert said. “Another voice the guys would hear during drill work. He took on whatever role he needed to and he was able to adapt to that.”

About halfway through football camp, Henken returned home to find out the results of the biopsy. To his relief, the results came out negative. Instead, they found an epididymal cyst, which has no relation to cancer.

“When he (the doctor) called me and told me, I mean, I was just so relieved,” Henken said. “I let a big sigh off my chest. For like the past four or five weeks, not knowing what my future was going to look like, definitely was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

He epitomizes everything I want Simpson College football to be about. Toughness, grit, resiliency… I can go on and on about the type of character he has.

— Coach Matt Jeter

Finally, the question on Henken’s mind for so long was answered. He was allowed to start practicing again a couple weeks later and suited up Sept. 8 in Chicago. He played in the game and started at left guard against Nebraska Wesleyan on Sept. 15, a mere 10 days after his first practice back.

“He means a lot to Simpson football,” head coach Matt Jeter said. “He epitomizes everything I want Simpson College football to be about. Toughness, grit, resiliency… I can go on and on about the type of character he has.”

While Henken still lives with only one testicle, he says his day-to-day life hasn’t changed. He’s learned much from his experience and hopes everyone can take away from his story what he’s taken away from it.

“Life’s crazy. The one big thing I pulled out of this is just staying positive,” Henken said. “As cliché or stupid as it sounds, staying positive helped my situation so much more. If I would’ve stayed negative the whole time, it would’ve just got worse. Positivity was my biggest takeaway.”

Henken said, “Just really appreciating what I had. All the support around me was eye-opening.”

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