Wednesday presented a double dose of good news for Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old brain cancer patient who became Rex Burkhead’s little buddy and a big part of the inspiration behind the Nebraska football team establishing its own chapter in the Uplifting Athletes organization.
First and foremost, the Hoffmans received news from Jack’s Boston neurologist that his tumor was stable to slightly smaller compared to his last MRI in October. That was especially encouraging when Wednesday’s MRI was compared to Jack’s April 2012 MRI that showed his tumor had grown. The significant shrinkage of the tumor made the doctor’s words “very heartening,” said Andy Hoffman, Jack’s dad. “She said the MRI looks fantastic.”
That surprising development helped reinforce the second part of Wednesday’s good news when Andy and his wife, Brianna, joined Executive Director for Uplifting Athletes Scott Shirley and Christine Bork, Chief Development officer for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, in presenting a $275,000 check to pediatric brain cancer researchers at Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
The check represents money raised in 2012 through Team Jack t-shirt sales, private fundraisers, University of Nebraska student fundraisers, plus donations to CureSearch and Uplifting Athletes. The anonymous $100,000 donation made to Nebraska’s Uplifting Athletes Chapter is included in the $275,000 contribution.
The award to the Cancer Institute targets specific pediatric brain cancer research designed to improve drug delivery methods to the tumor. The goal is research that might someday treat the disease with chemically engineered “smart drugs.”
The research will begin later this month..
“Nebraska should be very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the fight against pediatric brain cancer,” said Nebraska Associate AD Keith Zimmer, who connected the Hoffman family with Burkhead and that, in turn, forged a relationship with the entire Husker program. “Our fans showed this past fall that when they get behind a team, they get behind a team. Their unending loyalty to the cause and the campaign of pediatric brain cancer has put the disease in a position to be further researched by one of the world’s most accomplished cancer research centers.”
Jack’s dad finds it difficult to describe the impact of that relationship. “It’s incredible,” he said, “when you stop and think about how one college football player (Burkhead) made one little boy (Jack) battling brain cancer feel so important.”
Because of the notoriety created by that relationship, including ABC national television coverage and a poignant Big Ten Network feature centering on Jack's battle with a deadly disease, pediatric brain cancer was given a national platform that spurred successful fundraising.
"Rex winning the Rare Disease Champion Award (presented by Uplifting Athletes) really kicked everything off for Nebraska supporting this cause," Jack's dad said. "When Rex won that award, pediatric brain cancer was given a voice, and from there, our support for battling the disease kept growing and growing. The ripple effect created from that powerful visit to Lincoln in September of 2011 made it all the way to Boston and one of the leading cancer research institutions in the world. That's why it still hasn't fully sunk in for us. It's been such a remarkable sharing of support and hope, and we thank Husker fans everywhere."
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