Years After Boy's Cancer Remission, Family Still Advocating For Research Funding
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Jack Hoeger just turned 14 three weeks ago and his family of five marked it in their Cedar Rapids home with another celebration on June 27th.
"He was here, celebrating it," said his mother, Jen. "We had a great time."
Ever since he was five, Jack has battled cancer or its post-remission effects. A rare form of brain cancer took over his body in his early years and, in 2005, the Hoegers received the diagnosis they feared.
Jack's cancer has been in remission since 2006 but the effects are still clear.
"In a day, he takes 14 pills, takes a shot and takes a liquid sterioud and our seizures still aren't controlled with all of that," said Jen. Last year, Jen said doctors removed part of her son's frontal lobe to try and control the seizures.
During one of the hottest stretches of the summer, Jen and her three children are staying cool in their home. Jack shows off his room, flanked by his siblings, Ben, 11 and Ella, 9. He offers irresistible strawberry wafers to any stranger in his house and even offers his favorite wrestling moves.
"This kid is the most amazing kid on doing what he needs to do," said Jen.
It is that inspiration that led Jen to fly to Washington, D.C. earlier this month with a handful of other advocates for prioritizing cancer funding. The two-day trip included meetings with Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack as well as Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin.
"I was eager to tell our story again but I was also eager to tell everybody else's story because Jack is not the only one who has cancer," said Jen. "Cancer affects, unfortunately, everybody."
The signs of Jack's struggle and courage fill their home. The most striking image may be the family's 2005 Christmas card, with Jack's siblings each holding one of his hands as they walk down a leaf-covered path. It captures the essence of the boy's journey that his family lives with each day.
It was also that image that graces Martin Hoeger's book, "One Left Handed Hug", published in 2009 through a father's eyes watching his little boy struggle with this cancer that filled his body but did not overtake his spirit.
Now six years into remission and years after his cancer story was first shared in Iowa, Jack shares some of the usual characteristics of a teenage boy. Camping out by the fridge in the summer. Playing baseball with his friends. Watching movies and pondering his favorite wrestling moves.
Jen and Martin live a visible life around the area as their children do participate in various cancer awareness events in Eastern Iowa. For those of us who are parents and do spot the Hoegers, Jen asks to keep this in mind.
"It's not just about Jack," said Jen. "Ben and Ella have been affected by this since Day One. Ben has been the older brother and Ella helps Jack with everything. It's hard to be the younger siblings but they have done it with grace and style."