White Hall High School educator Marc Stringer exudes joy and embodies physical fitness even while he battles cancer.
The coach of the White Hall High School boys basketball team and a physical education teacher, Stringer was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and stomach on July 1, 2016. He began chemotherapy of 10 treatments and 25 radiations and underwent surgery to remove the mass, one-third of his stomach, two-thirds of his esophagus, and one rib. The doctors took the remains of his stomach and reshaped it to his esophagus.
“This whole thing has been very humbling,” Stringer, a former Arkansas Tech football player who stands 6-feet 5-inches and weighs 210 pounds, said.
The upbeat and easygoing Stringer delights in coming to work, teaching, coaching and otherwise living his life. He is drawing strength from his wife Lauren Stringer, who is an emergency room nurse; his parents Don and Jackie Stringer; friends, colleagues and students.
“I still get fatigued, I get headaches and normal side effects,” he said. “Radiation did me in in August and September. I did five weeks of radiation every day. When that hit, I really went down. I first started missing work. I’d come up here, do basketball seventh period and go to football [practice] and do defense and leave because that was all the energy I could muster. At the time I was not eating.”
As a result, he dropped to 180 pounds, “looked like a skeleton” and felt pains like barbed wire scraping his internal organs.
“I restarted chemo. This is kind of precautionary right now,” Stringer, 34, said. “I am doing four more months of treatments. My last scan was the day before Thanksgiving. It was clear — luckily. My oncologist said normally most people who get this are in their late 60s or older. They don’t usually do a post-op chemo.”
On a recent afternoon, Stringer was leading basketball practice, showing defensive players how to stand to box out the offensive players in anticipation of snagging a rebound and how to block in passing lanes. He taught his offensive players to executive a backdoor pass to set up an easy lay-up.
His players listened attentively and responded to his directions.
White Hall High School junior Devon Koonce smiled while discussing his dedication to playing for Stringer. He and his is teammates are playing especially hard for their coach.
“Having him go down set us back a little ways, and then him battling and helping us especially with our assistant, coach Johnson,” Koonce, a center and power forward, said. “It’s been a great season going out there and playing for him.”
The players pray for him before each game and share an encouraging word with him.
Fellow White Hall High School junior Quentin Urquhart gave a similar message of unity.
“We are battling through it, sticking by his side,” Urquhart, a small forward and power forward, said. “We know he is having a tough time right now. … He is fighting for us so we have got to fight for him. I am proud of him as a coach — he never let up on us. He is always pushing us harder to keep us going.”
Stringer missed a few days of work in the late summer at the start of football practice. He will be re-scanned on Feb. 23 and each three months thereafter through November.
“As of right now, they haven’t said ‘you are in remission,’” Stringer, who graduated from White Hall High School in 2001, added. “I think that comes so many years out. I’ve definitely had bad days. They are fewer and farther between now. When you are first diagnosed, it’s a shock.”
After the initial shock of his diagnosis, Stringer’s oncologist gave him the worst-case scenario. But then he decided to go on the offense against the cancer.
“Even when I am sick, if I can get up out of bed I am going to work,” he said. “And for the first time, I couldn’t do that. It’s a tough battle mentally and physically. My wife was right there. Her family and my family was around. I don’t think I could have done it alone.”
The chemotherapy saps his energy, but he focuses on coaching his students. One day, he could not stand, so he took a knee at the football field. His wife Lauren shares Christian scripture with him as he battles through difficult days.
“I came to work and my wife was going to pick me up, and dad said I looked green,” Marc Stringer said.
As a football player at Arkansas Tech, Stringer weighed 285 pounds. He earned a bachelor of science degree in health-physical education from Arkansas Tech and later earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Arkansas State University.
He shared his diagnosis with his players shortly after he came to terms with his new reality. His wife posted his new reality on social media to spread the word.
His father Don Stringer is principal of White Hall High School and calls his son a hero. He accompanies Marc to his chemotherapy treatments, noting his diagnosis ushered in a roller-coaster of emotions.
“I’ve met a lot of interesting people during this time,” Don Stringer said. “I’ve changed emotionally during this time. It’s not easy to talk about sometimes. I am extremely proud of him.”
Don Stringer explained that his son’s determination to beat a serious illness puts life in perspective.
“He has shown extraordinary strength, resolve, ability and drive,” Don Stringer said. “He has faced this head-on. He has never backed down if it needed to be done. His surgery was extremely invasive.”
Marc has been able to survive because of his superior physical fitness.
“I think this is part of God’s plan,” Don Stringer said. “I’ve been able to talk with people who have or have had cancer. I talked with parents who have kids with cancer like mine. I’ve met heroic people who fight cancer every day. The strength of some of these people is amazing. And I think Marc’s been able to do that. He has gotten over not wanting to talk about it. Now you can openly talk about it and almost be a witness. … And people have been fantastic around here in school and in the community, praying for him. I see the good and the bad in this entire thing. Of course the sickness is one thing, but the good is in the people.”
White Hall Superintendent Larry Smith praised Marc Stringer for his work ethic and joy of living. Smith concurred that he would not appear to be sick if someone were merely looking at him. Nonetheless, White Hall residents are rooting for his full recovery.
“Anytime you have a staff member who suffers health-wise, everyone suffers. He has been in our thoughts and prayers all year,” Smith, who holds a doctorate degree, said.
“Everyone is extremely excited that he has had success. It is extremely difficult to teach if you are healthy. He learned of his cancer at the start of the football season. He missed very few days, which is a testament to him. He is very fit from running and lifting weights. Anyone who goes through radiation, chemo, and surgery is going to have a lot taken out of him. We did not think there was any fat he could lose. He is such a healthy person. We are excited to see him come to work. The kids and parents appreciate him. I cannot say enough about him.
“My oldest son came home from college, saw Marc Stringer running at the wellness center wearing a 30-pound weight pack. That served him well to get back and see what he is able to do. We offered to have other folks cover classes. He declined our request. He was the defensive coordinator of the White Hall junior high football team. He did not get to rest between football and basketball seasons. His father Don Stinger helped him out. For him to be back as quickly as he was is nothing short of amazing. When we first heard the prognosis, it was not good. It was pretty scary. He cares so much about his kids. He does not want his health to affect his students.”