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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for copies of this excellent piece.)