“My first thought was ‘why is this happening to me?’ I thought, ‘what if he doesn’t get through it? Where am I going to live? What am I going to do?’”
Recently, Trinity Hennigan discovered that her father, Jeff, 46, has been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer in one of his ribs, right lung, spinal cord and his neck. He is now fighting for survival only four years since her mother, Janet, passed away following a battle with alcoholism.
So much, too soon in too short of time.
Trinity has asked herself those questions, but it comes with a caveat: Most young people do not endure the massive pain she has endured in such short time.
The Barbers Hill senior has become an athletic force in volleyball and an academic success in the classroom.
But nothing has tested her mettle more than what has happened these past five years.
That’s where the volleyball team comes in.
“When she told us it was shocking,” Barbers Hill volleyball coach Kristin Goodman said. “She’s strong and we are going to get through it. The team has rallied around her on the court by picking her up when she’s down.”
Despite this struggle, Trinity has been a force of inspiration for her teammates.
“She’s like a super hero,” senior Sarah Lankford said. “I don’t know how she did it with her mom? It’s insane because I couldn’t imagine losing my parents.”
Currently, Hennigan is helping her father as he fights to stay alive. Jeff fought bone cancer when he was 21 and he was told that his current affliction is caused by the radiation that was used to keep him alive 25-plus years ago.
“Trinity is a very strong young lady,” Jeff said. “She still loves her mom, she misses her mom. She’s handled it with bravery and boldness. She’s had a lot of courage in the way she has moved forward. She didn’t get down in the gutter and stay there. She did what she needed to do to ease the pain and athletics helped her do it.”
The signs of her father’s illness were there as her father battled a bad cough and a sore throat among other things for the past few years.
“He was doing all these tests and doctors didn’t know what it was,” Trinity said. They said ‘we can’t help you.’”
She ultimately got the news that her father had cancer just before the Lady Eagles prepared to play at a volleyball tournament in Pearland in August.
It’s natural for most to lose their parents but for one so young and in such short time was the hardest part for Hennigan to face.
Her teammates would not allow her to fight this alone.
“We have mostly all grown up with Trinity and we went through her mom and we learned a lot on how to be there and what do for Trinity,” Lankford said. “We help her out, take her places, let her stay the night. It wasn’t hard for us, but it was hard to hear. Nobody has any trouble helping.”
Jeff now stays at home while going through his second round of chemotherapy as his daughter is trying to maintain high grades, play at a high level on the volleyball court, make decisions on her collegiate future and be her father’s caregiver.
“Sometimes he has to stay at the medical center late … he won’t get back until morning,” Trinity said. “I don’t want to stay home by myself. I get lonely. So I am at Sarah’s or someone else’s. Or sometimes, I just go and talk. They really try to keep me busy.”
Goodman said administrators and teachers have also provided a lot of support to help her through these times especially when taking advanced course work.
“It’s hard to focus in class,” she said. “I can’t study sometimes.”
On occasion the toll of so much can wear on Trinity and her coach and teammate wholly understand her breaking point will be tested. Sometimes, that means stepping away from volleyball.
“There are things bigger than volleyball,” Goodman said. “If she needs the break, she deserves the break, you know?”
Trinity’s father is fighting the illness with positive results. There has been no further deterioration since treatments began.
The volleyball program has provided donations to help the two of them including gift cards, money for parking at the medical facilities and meals for them to eat if cooking time gets compromised.
Before her mother’s death, Trinity was an admitted “shy and scrawny kid,” and not outgoing.
“But after my mom, I became a social butterfly,” Trinity said. “When my mom would drink, it was secretive. My dad would be at work … When she drank she would yell at me and my brother, Tyler, for no reason. It kept getting worse and worse.”
The bittersweet part of this story is that before her mother’s passing, Jeff and Trinity’s relationship consisted of a chasm that kept them disconnected. Then when both suffered the loss of Janet, Jeff reached out and became the dad Trinity longed for.
“When my mom was here, my dad and I were not close. I was not comfortable around him,” Trinity said. “Then after my mom, I was in shock because now I had to live with him and talk to him. I was always scared of him. He ended up being a teddy bear and took on a parent role.
“My mom was a stay at home mom … he would go to work early and come home late … I never saw him. Now he’s at all the games he can be at. He takes me everywhere for volleyball. He’s more involved.”
Her father readily admits the work he did in control systems engineering kept him away from home for long stretches and created that disconnect.
When Janet died, he decided to parent up.
“I told work what happened and they said, ‘yeah, we support you,’” he said. “I did zero travel and given the freedom to work from home and be here for the kids. That’s what I needed to do and be there for them. I would get them up and get them to school and I would be at all the functions. All the things mom would do, like locker room decorations – I had to do that now.
“I didn’t want her to be left out so I hung out with a bunch of women and decorated a locker room.”
With her high school days dwindling, Trinity hopes she can find a way to carry on while never leaving her father’s side for too long. She is leaning to moving no further than West Texas and to close enough points in the state, Louisiana and Arkansas for her future collegiate home.
But the lessons she and her teammates have learned during Trinity’s trials are more valuable than any college could possibly provide.
“In eighth grade I wasn’t worried about anything and didn’t appreciate what I had,” Lankford said. “I tell my parents I love them every day. Family, friends, I call them and tell them. I make sure I do that every day.”
Trinity admits she had to grow up at a younger age quicker than most, not only because of her mother’s death, but the adversity she faced prior because of her mother’s drinking.
“I would hear people say ‘I hate my parents, I hate my mom,’ and I would be like ‘no you don’t,’” she said. “It could be worse. You’re fine.”
It is that spirit of finding the good in every outcome that has carried Trinity through these past four years. Including that of finding her father through the death of a mother.
“There is always something positive in everything,” Trinity said. “Yes, my dad has cancer, but they have treatments. There is always something good out of everything. If he does die? Then he has peace and he’s not hurting anymore.
“Just stay hopeful.”
Her father’s attitude in this battle has given her the power to have that hope.
“I definitely missed things with both my kids,” Jeff said. “I wasn’t at everything I wanted to be. After Janet passed away, that gave me the responsibility of what I had to do. My kids come first before everything in life.
“If I have to suffer for six months to live another 25 years, I’ll do it. I am not going out this way. I am going to beat it again.”