Editor’s note : This story was originally written on the 7th. November 2020 published. Check out the E60 footage: Two fights for Jack Hoffman and his father, Andy Hoffman, and their family on Friday the 4th. December, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The leaves had not yet turned into rocking chairs on the white porch near the sand hills of Nebraska, while Andy and Brianna Hoffman settled in the rocking chairs. Can I hold your hand? asks Andy Bri, and they squeeze their fingers. They’re waiting for their son to come home.
It’s a good day. Barbecues hold a concert in the afternoon in the north wind, while neighbours wave as they pass the two-storey Hoffmanov farmhouse. Every time someone asks why a lawyer and a pharmacist would choose a remote place like Atkinson, Nebraska, to raise a family, the answer is on this porch. The school is across the street and, more importantly, the West Holt High School football field is 222 steps away.
Jack was still wearing diapers when they bought the house and there was little doubt he would become a soccer player. You can’t put a little boy with corn in a shovel without sleeping.
But then Jack was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of five. Two years later, he ran for a 69-yard touchdown in a spring game in Nebraska, and that moment brought the 7-year-old to the White House in Los Angeles on the ESPY to meet President Barack Obama.
Her father founded the Team Jack Foundation, and old ladies filled envelopes for a small city company that turned into Moloch to raise $8 million for child brain cancer research. In quiet times, when he wasn’t working as a lawyer, running a charity or raising a family, Andy Hoffman prayed. He prayed that his son, who underwent two operations and 60 weeks of chemotherapy in a row, would survive.
And now look at him. Around 3 p.m. on the last Friday of September, Jack leaves the field with school supplies and a corncup on Ghost Day. 5’10 and 180 pounds heavier than most boys in their first grade. He has crazy eyes and mommy’s modesty, and he looks at the ground when he realizes he’s being watched. I’m going home tonight, and Jack has a date. Her younger sisters are curious, but Jack doesn’t say much, only that she is a friend and that she invited him to dance.
He will probably curse that intimacy later in the evening when the music stops at midnight and his parents know exactly when the dance is over because they can hear it.
Here’s the best part: In a few hours Jack will be playing soccer for the West Holt Huskies. This impossible journey of 222 steps is over. Thanks to the attacks and the nervous trip to Boston for a CT scan, Jack was able to pull through. You did it.
They will ride to the bleachers and watch the boy in T-shirt number 76 on a warm and perfect night they know they can’t keep up.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Jack was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her mother, Brianna, and her father, Andy, have since tried to make her life as normal as possible. The Hoffman family, courtesy
July, error , and Bree was worried. Andy was a little less thoughtful, and his driving was a little more chaotic, floating on the grids. Always cozy. Andy started leaving. He started having trouble formulating what he was trying to tell his clients. He just wasn’t Andy.
The Hoffmans were doing boring things in their hut on the Missouri River when Andy Big Brother Mike confessed he was no good. It’s something deep, Andy told him, and it’s something bad. Andy wondered if it was a depression because it was in his family, and he postponed his doctor’s visit because he didn’t want the pills. He didn’t feel overwhelmed either.
Sunday the 19th. In July, the Hoffmans were getting ready to go to church when Andy left without telling anyone. I know it wouldn’t be unusual for many people, Bry says, but it was unusual for our family. After Mass, they fought. Bri told him that whatever happened, Andy insisted on getting better. After all, he promised to see a doctor last week, I bet.
Check out the E60 footage: Twice Battle, the story of Andy Hoffman, Jack Hoffman and this close family from Nebraska, courage and determination in the second battle against brain cancer. Friday at 20:00 ET on ESPN2.
He decided to run away. He always seemed to have a clear head. Before Jack got sick, Andy was carrying 275 pounds on a 5-9 chassis. Early 2013 he decided it was time for a change. If he wanted to play for children with brain cancer, team leader Jack should look healthy. So he started jogging, which led him to another door. In 2014 he took part in the Boston Marathon.
Forty-one years old and in good condition, he often walked the Cowboy Trail, a limestone railway that runs along the old Chicago railway line and the Northwest Railway. Two miles away, on the 19th. In July, Andy’s body was sedated and began to shake uncontrollably. He answered the phone and called Bry.
Come and get me, he said. I think I’m having a seizure.
They rushed to West Holt Memorial Hospital, the 17-seat facility where Jack was born. The scan showed a white sea in the middle of his brain. Further tests and interpretation would have come from a large hospital three hours drive from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but the emotional tone of Atkinson’s assistant physician was a hunch.
Andy wouldn’t go anywhere without his kids. When he heard bad news, he wanted his kids to come with him.
Bree’s sister, Tiffany Miller, a lawyer in Sioux Falls, and they dropped Jack, then 14, Ava, then 12, and Reese, 9, off at her house that night. Although Bri and Andy are hardened by nine years of caring for children with brain cancer, they are optimistic, and on their way to the hospital they realized they were hoping for the best out of the worst.
We never thought how bad the news would be, Andy.
The tumor has spread to both sides of his brain. Doctors thought the glioblastoma was multiform, a very aggressive form of brain cancer. It wasn’t the same cancer as his son’s. The average life expectancy is between one year and 15 months.
He wanted to see his children. The COWID 19 protocols wouldn’t allow this. Andy won’t say what happened after that because he doesn’t want anyone to get in trouble.
But the hospital, which will remain anonymous, took him to a more suitable place to surprise three children in the middle of the night. Ava and Reese made themselves comfortable in a hospital bed while Jack slept on the floor. But he couldn’t sleep.
Usually I thought Jack would talk: Why is this happening again?
Sometimes I wonder… For example, many families suffer from brain tumours. But how many, as you can see, are affected by two?
Fault! The file name is not specified. Jack Hasker’s favorite was Rex Burkhead, now a returning New England patriot who became a family friend after meeting Jack in 2011. The courteous Hoffman family
TheHOFFMANS WERE brings almost real news for her children: Daddy has a brain tumor, and we’re gonna ask the best doctors in the world to help us fight it.
Andy is a type A person who has benefited from perseverance. When Jack’s doctors in Omaha said most brain tumors couldn’t be removed, Andy gave up? No, he examined, checked and found a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital who could do it. The surgeon, Dr. Liliana Humnerova, removed a tumor the size of Jack’s golf ball in 2011, and when Andy examined his own brain tumor, he called Humnerova to ask her advice on which doctor would perform the surgery.
Andy chose the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and was taken there the next morning. But in a few days, it deteriorated. The morning of the operation, he could barely get out of bed. Bri was impressed by the aggressive nature of the tumor. Her husband went jogging just a few days ago, and now he couldn’t even say his name. He’s had two strokes and a brain haemorrhage from a tumor.
I was afraid he’d jump out and eat it, Bry says.
Dr. Nadia Laak, head of radiologic oncology at the Mayo Clinic, said that glioblastoma multiforme evolves so rapidly that patients develop symptoms in weeks rather than months or years. Andy’s tumor was even more aggressive.
He’s been receiving chemo and radiation treatments for six weeks. Andy attacked him with the same energy with which he created Team Jack and ran marathons. But in the end, it’ll be something Andy can’t review or control.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hoffman has a terminal brain tumor, says Laak. We made him realise that it was a very aggressive tumour that our medical community could not cure despite years of research.
The treatment we give is aimed at prolonging his life as long as possible and trying to maintain his functionality and quality of life for as long as possible. But unfortunately, most of these tumors eventually fall back and die.
Laak said there seems to be no genetic link between Andy and Jack’s tumors. It’s the worst, the most terrible opportunity, she says. She was an oncologist for almost two decades and didn’t remember a parent and child fighting brain cancer at the same time.
She stated that in situations where several forms of cancer are not inherited in a household, environmental factors are often the cause.
It is very difficult to determine because tumors are rare, she says, and if it is a problem related to water, pesticides, pollution or radon, it usually takes more than one household to have a problem. They need to see more problems in society.
There is no clear relationship with the environment. Unfortunately, one of the few factors we know that can lead to brain tumors is the history of irradiation. And none of them were exposed to radiation before all this started.
Fault! The file name is not specified. At the age of 7, Jack walked to a 69-yard touchdown in a Huskers spring game. The crowd applauded, and the moment caught the attention of fans across the country. The Hoffman family, courtesy
FOR THE SUBJECT, Andy was emotional. He’s not ashamed to say he’s a crybaby in the family. Bree is more private and measured.
When Jack had a seizure at the age of five and only Andy could take him to Omaha by ambulance, Brie loaded a baby into his car and drove for three and a half hours without knowing whether his son would live or die.
Her sister Tiffany called her on the way, crying, and Brie responded calmly: What is it, Tiff?
Tiffany was so upset about Bri’s behavior that she started fighting. What the hell is this? You mean what happened? Years later, Miller knows why his sister reacted this way.
You know what? Miller asked. She focuses on what needs to be done and what she can control.
The night Bri found out her husband was diagnosed with a potentially hopeless diagnosis, she cried. It was 2:00 in the morning. It was just for a minute. She left the hospital to pick up the children so that Andy could be with them, and she called her sister to tell her she would come and explain what was going on, and she could barely understand the words. The impenetrable walls have collapsed.
But when she got to Miller’s house, there was no sign of her. Not in front of your children.
Brianna Stiner grew up in Burke, South Dakota, a southern point near the border with Nebraska. The eldest of the three, Bri, was shy and mature. She was smart in the first place. She forgot her calculator when she did the ACT and still scored 33 points [max. 36].
The rural plains on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota can be brutal for a teenager in winter, but in summer he would run to the river or get into cars to go to the next street dance. Andy discovered Bree while dancing in Bonesteel, South Dakota, halfway between Burke and Spencer, Nebraska, where the Hoffmans grew up. It was the summer before high school. He asked her to dance, although he can’t really dance.
They seemed like opposites. Andy was outgoing and confident and always managed to negotiate a longer curfew. He was obsessed with football, especially corn football. The Hoffmans didn’t have cable television in the country, and on Saturday, Andy went looking for where to find the game on satellite television. When his older brother Mike wandered around Nebraska in the mid-1990s, it was Andy’s dream. At least until he met Bri.
Bri was focused on school, but Andy was persistent. He would have called Tiffany about the Secret Service. What do I have to do to convince your sister to go out with me? He asked.
It took about a year for Brie to give in and they started dating. Their weather wasn’t perfect. Andy’s planning to run in Utah. They communicated mainly through letters, and after his knee injury he knew what to do. I left Utah and went to South Dakota to visit a girl, he said.
He indoctrinated her into the world of corn football, dragged her whole family into that world, really. Brie pushed him too. In high school, he wasn’t the most motivated student since he was a senior. Class 24.
Things changed when he got back from Logan, Utah. He wanted to graduate, and Bree’s work ethic was contagious, he says. She was 19 when he bought her an engagement ring and they were married a year later.
I thought I’d get shorter and fatter, Andy’s jokes. I had to lock him up. When I found out, I said to myself, why wait?
Andy went to the same law school, University of South Dakota, and was accepted. In the 90-year-old class he was seventh.
Jack Cornhasher’s MET in 2011, between his first and second brain surgery. His favorite player was Rex Burkhead, the young long-distance runner, whose number adorned Jack’s store-bought T-shirt. Andy emailed Nebraska to see if they could get a picture of Jack and Burkhead, but didn’t really expect a reaction. Burkehead met them for lunch, showed them around the Lincoln Memorial Stadium and walked on the field with Jack. Jack gave him a red rubber bracelet that said that Team Jack… Pray.
Fault! The file name is not specified. President Obama welcomed Jack to the White House. The courteous Hoffman family
It could have ended there, but Burkhead then put on a bracelet for a game in Washington and called the Friday before Jack’s operation to wish him good luck. This weekend the Haskers played in Ohio. They were 27-6 and Burkhead tried to set some of his teammates on fire. Hey, Jack didn’t give up, he told them, so why should we?
Nebraska rallied 34-27 and Burkhead scored a winning touchdown. A few days after Jack’s operation, Burkhead called him back.
I just wanted to see how he was doing, Burkhead. I didn’t want this to be one of those days where I meet a man, wish him luck and move on. I cared about his well-being and I wanted to follow him.
The discussions turned into friendship and on the eve of spring, the coaching staff of Nebraska 2013 came up with the idea of involving Jack in the game.
Jack was an asshole. He thought he was just running for a few people – not 60,000, six times more than the whole Holt district in his homeland. He didn’t even know how to stop because he didn’t know where the goal line was. But Andy was calm and reassuring. He said she had to keep running for the fence.
The crowd erupted when Jack crossed the field, flanked by hippos in red shirts. He’s in midfield… Haskers game host Greg Sharp said Listen to this crowd!
The Haskers lured Jack to the end zone and lifted him on his shoulders. Andy was standing in the field, trying to find his boy on a red heap to digest what had just happened. That night, while Jack was running at SportsCenter and playing over and over again, he joined the Hoffmans: It was a big problem.
But Jack wanted a normal life, whether it was as the only 7-year-old boy who scored a touchdown at Memorial Stadium or as the only sophomore in Atkinson with brain cancer. Andy and Brie made sure everything was as close to normal as possible.
Every three months there will be trips to Boston to scan and treat the tumor. Reese, the youngest, never knew a world where Jack wouldn’t get cancer. She was six months old when Jack first had surgery.
We feel like we missed her a bit when she was growing up, Bri. I remember the first time she sat down with my mother. You know what I mean? She quits because she doesn’t want people to think she’s complaining. She says she is grateful for the parents who can help her, grateful that her daughters are healthy and that her son is still alive.
Jack’s done two cancer tests. The second, which began in 2018, includes drugs used in adults with melanoma. So far, the combination of two medicines has prevented the growth of the tumour.
Dr. Laak, who also treats pediatric patients in Mayo (but not Jack), said brain tumors often stabilize and stop growing as the child grows.
We really want Jack to grow up real fast, Bry.
He always takes 22 tablets a day and rarely has a complex partial attack. They can come without warning, so they can’t get the student’s driver’s license.
Jack’s calm when he describes the attacks. He says they usually last one to five minutes, he’s black and his body is on autopilot. He had epileptic seizures during a soccer game.
West Holtas football coach Steve Neptun said the team was ready. He warns the referees of any game that if number 76 suddenly stops and does nothing, they must stop the game because he has an attack.
According to Neptune, Haskis’ assistant Chris Nemetz and Jack’s teammates keep an eye on the signs. When that happens, Nemetz will put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, tell him he’s there and lead him to the sidelines.
He doesn’t want much attention, Neptune says, and we try to treat him like any other player.
But we’ll keep an eye on him.
Jack loves football, hunting and his yellow labrador. Roxy was his all-you-can-eat gift. He gave him the name of a therapeutic dog he had met during chemotherapy.
He can be annoying sometimes, Ava says about her brother, but he is very caring and very kind. He usually gives me the last piece of cake. He buys me presents with his money.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Ava Hoffman, 13 years old, started working during the pandemic. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she answered Neurosurgeon. The Hoffman family, courtesy
HOFFMANA Kids calls Andy Mr. Funny, because he plays loud music, makes them ice in the blizzard and keeps them awake for a long time. Thanks to Jack, Andy never took anything for granted. Do you want to see Disneyland? Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Do you want to hunt? It’s no problem. Andy took a week off and shot deer with Jack, Ava and Reese.
Before that he was a grandfather, says Mike Hoffman, but after Jack was diagnosed, he became a phenomenal father. Did you hear the song Live Like You [Were] Deying? He did it every day.
For years Andy wanted to write a book about Jack’s journey, but he never had the time. Eleven months ago he did so with the New Year’s resolution 2020. He wrote at night when the children were in bed and was so busy that he had to dictate a role. That summer he wrote 70,000 words and pressed the ‘Send to Editor’ button. Two weeks before he got sick.
I said: I want it done by the first quarter , he said. I wasn’t finished, so I gave myself an extension. I said: Well, you should be ready by the second quarter, Andy. Because they’re bulls…
He was a pure God. You know what I mean?
Fault! The file name is not specified. Jack came off the bench and beat West Holt. He plays in the middle, just like his father. The Hoffman family, courtesy
The Hoffmans and the Stiners are less connected than the huge Midwestern cancer group. When we found out in July that Andy was at the Mayo Clinic and that he had brain cancer, they came – grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins and nieces. Everyone had to go to Rochester.
They couldn’t sit at his bedside because of COWID-19, but they could wait at the hotel and take Jack, Ava and Reese to the park or pool. You could be there for Bri. Visiting hours ended at 6 a.m. and they were outside the hospital every night until Brie came out. They took her home.
Ava started making posters. If Andy had come to the window, he might have seen them there, waiting and hoping. Bri’s worried about Ava. She knows how hard this is for her.
Eva is spicy and full of energy, just like her father. She wants to do whatever it takes to help. When she had to make a speech at school about what she wanted to become when she grew up, Ava’s answer was simple: Neurosurgeon. Ava does a lot of sports, but during the pandemic she started running and ran with her mother until she was too fast for her mother. She decided to join the cross-country team.
The children stayed in Rochester until mid-August, but then the school started. Bonnie and Kerry Stiner – Brie’s parents – stayed with the children in Atkinson, while Andy’s parents took care of the children in Rochester.
Eva won the first game she ever played and one of her teammates called the Hoffmans to see her cross the finish line on FaceTime. Andy gets emotional when he sees Ava walking. She’s doing what he can’t.
Andy worked so hard on his physiotherapy and reacted so well to the treatment that he went home in mid-September. The staff of the Mayo Clinic cried tears as he walked out on his own and waved at him.
He’s had some very good days for a few weeks. He went to the cabin and saw his children playing on the Missouri River. He walked four miles with his family in Black Hills.
Burkehead, who had returned for the New England Patriots, and Jack, a member of the team’s board of directors, called, and he and his wife Danielle prayed with Andy and Bree.
Andy’s a fighter, Burkhead says. He has incredible positivity and stamina.
It’s just that his mentality about all this is so inspiring and impressive.
Fault! The file name is not specified. – set
Andy Hoffman thought this morning when he got a brain tumor.
Where we were in early fall when Andy didn’t look like a man with terminal brain cancer. He practiced physical therapy, met his predecessor, walked and talked like any other parent at West Holt High football matches. He sometimes had trouble talking, but it was a barely noticeable change.
The 25th. In September, on their return day, Andy and Brive traveled 70 miles to the Invitation Order to see Ava cross the golf course. She won the game, then they went back to Atkinson for a soccer game. Husky defeated Ainsworth 62-18 as Jack got off the bench and played on the offensive and defensive lines. He’s the center, just like his father.
After the match he kissed Andy and Brie and got ready for the ball.
Jack’s birthday was the next day, and Andy went down to the basement late at night to pick up his son’s gift, a Winchester Short Magnum 300 caliber rifle. He just put a new rifle scope on a wood-grained rifle. But Andy fell in the basement and couldn’t get up. He should have called brie for help.
You feel close to death when you feel that way, Andy. But in the morning, I feel like I control the world.
It was a chilly Saturday morning in after we got home, and Reese slipped into mommy’s arms while sitting on the porch. She tried to gossip about her brother’s prom. Bry said that when the music stopped around midnight – there was dancing outside because of the pandemic – Jack didn’t answer his messages at first, and Bry went to school to watch him.
Neeeee! Reese said, just like Bry said. He must have talked to his friends, Mom.
Luckily, Brie thought of it, and Jack came home this morning around 12:20.
Reese doesn’t really understand what’s going on with her father, and sometimes when Brie puts her to bed at night, Reese gets scared and talks: Don’t leave me.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Jack, 15, Ava, 13, and Reese, 9, were there for each other and their parents. The Hoffman family, courtesy
NOT ONE, ADULT where a child can fully understand what’s happening A 15-year-old son shouldn’t help his father shower or go to the bathroom, but in Andy’s worst moments, that’s what Jack should do. He went from patient to nurse.
A maximum should not be immediately followed by an extreme minimum. In October Andy felt so good that he wanted to walk with Ava. One morning he woke up and couldn’t walk anymore. He vomited four times and the next day he went back to the Mayo Clinic. Two new tumors have been discovered on MRI. He was irradiated for five days in the hope that the tumor would react and he would have more good days.
He recently sold his law firm, three offices he’s built all his life. He had no choice. His knowledge wasn’t about what Andy calls heavy customer business. He wouldn’t want to risk anyone’s well-being.
He says he rests between the moments of hope and the dark reality. He’s thinking about what he’s going to miss, the games and the ball. He starts crying when he thinks he can’t walk his daughters down the aisle at their wedding. Then he stops. He’s never been a man to give up.
This may sound strange, but he says it was a blessing. We should thank God for the trials he’s inflicting on us, and I prayed that he would thank us. Thank you, God, for giving me brain cancer.
Because he knows what he’s doing. And you’re not.
Thanks to radiation therapy, Andy was able to regain some of his mobility in November. He recently started wearing an Optune cap that alternately injects electric fields to slow down the tumor’s recovery process after exposure.
Although he calls the cap a pain in the ass – he would have to wear it 18 hours a day – he is grateful for any option that could extend his life.
He says it’s for the kids.
We’re organizing a new return.
His book Yards After Contact was recently published and all profits go to the Jack team. The book has already raised $50,000 for child brain cancer research. It’s his legacy. He was going to sign the book, but the 19 KOVID cases broke out in Nebraska and the event was cancelled.
So he sits on his farm and signs the books with a black marker. The air is getting colder and the sky is getting darker, but Andy can still see his future from the porch. He wants to go to Florida in January. They planned this trip before he was diagnosed. He wants to see Burkehead play in New England, and Jack plays his second year across the street.
I have to keep busy, he says. I don’t want to sit here and die.
Chris Connelly of ESPN contributed to this report.
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