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A 6-year-old with a brain tumor requiring chemotherapy treatment is the ultimate catalyst for a rare Nebraska football action group now charged to raise funds and increase awareness for pediatric cancer. "A Nebraska chapter of Uplifting Athletes is absolutely awesome," said Andy Hoffman, the dedicated father to Jack Hoffman, the 6-year-old who captured the heart and friendship of Husker running back Rex Burkhead. "This is a big deal, a really big deal, but the best thing about starting this new chapter is that it's not about Jack; it's about the disease and doing everything humanly possible to fight it. For our family, this is the most uplifting news you can get because nothing lifts you up more than hope. Nebraska now has a good chance to make pediatric brain cancer a priority. Nebraska football players will make this organization successful. They're giving this rare disease a national platform for research and education, and I'm almost speechless just thinking about it."
Hoffman is an attorney whose family lives in Atkinson, Neb. His son's relationship with Burkhead helped plant the first seeds of hope in a situation that was every bit as scary as it was ominous. But from the day the Hoffmans met Burkhead last fall in Lincoln, they've plowed forward just like their favorite All-Big Ten running back who has a penchant for staying on his feet. Tackling cancer isn't easy at any age, but Burkhead's positive influence makes every day, every week and every month easier for a kid who refuses to let chemo keep him down. There is no medicine like hope because hope is the parent of faith, the stimulus to action and the mindset that keeps an entire family firmly anchored on what's going well rather than what isn't. Wednesday, Hoffman received a note from his son's neurosurgeon who classified Jack's tumor as stable and perhaps even slightly smaller - giddy news to be sure, if not hope reinforced.
Rex Burkhead isn't the only one carrying a heavy burden on his shoulder pads and Team Jack bracelets on his arm. His teammates, coaches, administrators and fans are all rallying around Jack. So is every kid in America who is forced to take the same protocol treatment he does - the one that's now a quarter-century-old - to fight a disease that gets attention in the smallest doses. "What an incredible group of athletes," Hoffman said of the 47 Nebraska football players who are all "N' on this one. "I can't believe that they would do this with all the demands on their time. They have classes, heavy-duty training, girlfriends and family members, yet they still want to go raise money and increase awareness for pediatric brain cancer," Hoffman said. "From my perspective, two big things are going to come out of this: 1) they are going to have a direct impact on research for a rare disease that gets very little attention; and 2) they're going to bring awareness to this disease like no one else has ever done. Five years ago, pediatric brain cancer got almost zero dollars. There was no investment and no energy. But that's going to change. Now, our family and ones just like ours will have something we all need - hope."
Without hope, there is no action. With hope, there's a passion for the possible. The Hoffmans are proof that fear should never should hold back anyone from pursuing their hopes. "I hope no one misinterprets this, but when you're dealing with pediatric cancer, hope can be the difference between seeing your kid graduate from high school instead of having a funeral in junior high school," he said. "Organizations like Uplifting Athletes not only buy you research; they buy you time, and time can buy you more hope." John F. Kennedy insisted that hope is one of those things in life that you just cannot do without. Andy Hoffman sees hope putting faith to work when doubting would be easier. "This is so awesome that I'm still stunned," he said. "I just can't say enough about how much Uplifting Athletes reflects on the character of the players volunteering. They're volunteering for all the right reasons, and I'm sure that every Husker fan I know couldn't be much prouder. In my mind, this is a group of players who see what winning really means."
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