The Game

In April 2011, healthy five-year old Jack Hoffman of Atkinson, Nebraska had a grand mal seizure which lasted over thirty minutes.  Jack was then airlifted to Children’s Hospital Omaha and the doctors’ news  was grim.  Jack had a large malignant brain tumor and needed surgery. Unfortunately for the Hoffman family, the first surgery wasn’t effective.  95% of the tumor was left intact, as the surgery proved too dangerous. 
 
Life grew really tough for Jack and his family as he suffered seizures, up to eleven a day.  Bri and Andy Hoffman desperately sought further medical options and prayed their hearts out, rallying everyone they knew to pray for their beloved boy.  By August 2011, Pediatric Neurosurgeon Dr. Lilian Goumnerova of Children’s Hospital Boston, determined that the tumor could be mostly removed to ease the life-threatening seizures, though the risks were substantial. After much prayer, the Hoffman’s agreed and Jack was scheduled for high-risk brain surgery at Boston’s Children Hospital on Oct 10th, 2011.
 
In the fall leading up to Jack’s surgery, Andy Hoffman wanted to do something special for his son.  After contacting the University of Nebraska, Andy arranged for Jack to meet his favorite player, running back Rex Burkhead of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Rex, a kind and gentle Texan and outstanding football player, met the family for lunch on September 25, 2011, toured them through the University of Nebraska stadium and even ran down the football field with Jack, starting up a friendship which continued throughout Jack’s long months of battling brain cancer.  


At that meeting, Andy gave Rex some “Team Jack – Pray” bracelets. Rex put one on and still wears it today. Rex started following Jack’s progress with ongoing phone calls and visits,  and then opened a Nebraska chapter of Uplifting Athletes, becoming a leading advocate for pediatric brain cancer research.  He was recently awarded the Rare Disease Champion Award presented by Uplifting Athletes.  Rex spoke about Jack’s impact on his life:

Jack has taught me a lot about life,” Burkhead said. “He’s put my life in perspective. To see Jack battle, it’s something I never had to go through when I was a kid. But he’s still living life and having fun and laughing. Just seeing that is motivation for me. If there’s anything in my life that I think is hard, I take a second look at it now.”                                    -from “Jack Hoffman Steals Spring Show”M. Schalabach, ESPN.com

Thankfully, Jack’s second surgery on October 10, 2011 was a success, as doctors removed most of the golf-ball sized tumor.  Unfortunately, in April 2012, the Hoffman family received hard news that the spot on Jack’s brain stem had grown and was still inoperable. On April 27, 2012, Jack started a sixty-week chemotherapy treatment at Children’s Hospital Omaha to shrink the tumor and save his life.

Last Saturday, Jack played the game of his life.  The University of Nebraska coaches called up Andy Hoffman and asked if Jack would like to play in their spring exhibition game with his beloved Huskers.  

Saturday morning, Jack awoke and agreed to their invite. Andy then found Jack’s 22 Rex Burkhead jersey which they had purchased at Jack’s first Huskers’ game two year’s earlier before brain cancer had rocked all their lives.  The family scrambled to put together gear for Team Jack and placed it all in a backpack which Jack wore.  Jack watched most of the spring game on the sidelines until the fourth period when he changed quickly into uniform while the players huddled in a protective wall around him.


Ever since Rex Burkhead had told his team Jack’s story, the Huskers had carried Jack in their hearts, many wearing Team Jack Pray bracelets as they cheered on this boy in his fierce battle for his life. 

The Huskers had a chance to give to this little boy the best game of his life and last Saturday they certainly did.  In the final quarter, Jack scored a 69 yard touchdown, the best spring touchdown ever, to the roaring cheers of sixty thousand fans and the jubilant Huskers. To watch those big burly boys gently hustle up the fields, letting Jack lead the play, and then rejoicing at his touchdown was an amazing example of showmanship, of both the heart of the Huskers, and the courage of this little boy.

This week, Jack will resume his chemotherapy, treatment which is over twenty-five years old.  Research for pediatric brain cancer is limited and not highly visible like breast or prostate cancers.  Jack’s game on Saturday may have turned this around, since his play is one of the most watched Youtube videos this week (7.1 million hits and counting).  

Though pediatric brain cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of children, happily more than half diagnosed will recover and live long into adulthood.  As Bri and Andy Hoffman battle for Jack’s future, they have linked arms with CureSearch for Children’s Cancer to raise pediatric research funds with the Team Jack Legacy Fund to help stop brain cancer in children and to develop a cure now.

 
Cancer affects us all.  Whether you know a friend, have lost a loved one, or faced it yourself, cancer is a reality in North America.  In 2010, I remember the cold fear that gripped me when my family doctor informed me I had a brain tumor.  I shudder at the strain I felt as I underwent numerous MRI’s at Toronto Western Hospital, working through what would happen to my kids, my family, my future as the machine relentlessly clanged jackhammer sounds and I breathed through the panic.  Thankfully, my tumor was ruled benign and has not caused significant problems for me, which is to God’s great glory.  
 
Jack’s story has proved much tougher.  
 
Team Jack Pray bracelets are still available as we continue to pray and hope for good news for beloved Jack Hoffman.  Recent news that Jack’s tumor is shrinking has been a relief to everyone who carries this family in their hearts.  Why not consider joining Team Jack – Pray as we pray until we hear the good news of Jack’s full recovery, for Jack’s family, for strength to endure and that Jack has many joyful moments along this tough road.  Why not give to pediatric cancer research and link arms with financial means?


Prayer works.  So does loving on purpose, which the Rex Burkhead and the Huskers have surely demonstrated with this game.  As we are confronted with real needs, the choice is always to act or ignore.  We are so glad, for Jack’s sake, that the Huskers acted.  

What are you going to do when confronted with the next real  need?  What can you do now?

(Artwork courtesy of Jeff Koterba, World Herald.  Please contact him at owhstore@owh.com for copies of this excellent piece.)