Coming Back from Childhood Cancer, One Step at a Time
Watching their daughter win grand champion bucket calf at the 2021 O’Brien County Fair brought tears of joy to Jerry and Sara Hofman’s face. They had their eye on the prize, but their joy didn’t stem from ribbons or trophies. Not only did Gaupo the steer have to learn how to lead in the show ring, but their 11-year-old daughter had to learn how to walk again after battling cancer for the past two and half years, including nearly nine months of cancer treatments and hospitalization.
Jewel Hofman was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the most common cancer that starts in the bones, in April 2020. Her left leg was amputated below the knee on July 31, 2020. After the surgery, Jewel came home for a few weeks before she underwent months of chemotherapy at the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City.
“It was so amazing to see Jewel lead that calf into the ring with a smile on her face because she hadn’t walked for such a long time,” explains Sara Hofman. “She was in bed basically every day from the time she started chemo in April 2020 until chemo ended in January 2021. She didn’t have the energy to even try walking on her prosthetic leg until March of this year.”
While many people across the world felt stressed by navigating daily life during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Hofman family was trying to figure out how to care for cattle in their feedlot, pigs in their nursery, crops, and all five of their children during a health crisis.
“Jewel received treatments for three out of four weeks in Iowa City. We live five hours away, so Jewel had to stay in Iowa City,” said Jerry. “Because of Covid, only one parent was allowed in the hospital room at a time. Sarah and I would take turns staying with Jewel. Sara would stay for one week, and I would stay home. Then we would switch.”
Sara adds, “We would meet outside the door of the hospital and hug each other tight as we make the switch. Then I would drive back home alone. It was so tough being apart. Jewel’s siblings couldn’t visit her in the hospital due Covid restrictions. It was tough on the younger two because Jewel and Lily were inseparable before her treatment, and Dirk is close to Jewel because he’s just one year younger.”
The Hofman’s oldest son, Titan, took over the day-to-day operations of the farm in 2020. At that time, he was a 20-year-old, full-time student, studying Agribusiness at Iowa Lakes Community College. He made time to plant and harvest the family’s corn and soybean crops that year. Their middle son, Colt, joined the Army when he was 18. He was in basic training in July 2020 when Jewel had her amputation.
The Hofman family is in a different place now. Titan and Nicole were married on May 21, 2021. They live nearby, and Titan is driving semi plus farming some of his own ground, as well as farming with Jerry and Sara. Colt has returned home and is working for an electrician. Lily has started her junior year of high school, and Dirk is in the fourth grade. Jewel is making strides in fifth grade.
Although she is back in school and her hair is growing back, Jewel’s journey with cancer will continue for the rest of her life. Families of childhood cancer patients will tell you they learn to appreciate the mountains because you never know when you’ll experience another valley. Every three months the Hofmans will travel to Iowa City for scans and tests to ensure Jewel has no active cancer. Rather than be filled with the fear of the unknown, they choose to live life filled with hope and joy.
A CaringBridge Site was created for Jewel. It‘s a caring social network to help people stay connected with family and friends during a health event. Follow along with her journey at teamjeweljade on CaringBridge.
“Many people go through tough times without the comfort of knowing their Lord and Savior or having support from their family and their community,” says Jerry. “We can’t thank everyone enough for their help and support. We have been tremendously blessed.”
“I was really nervous when I called the local hospital because we live in rural Northwest Iowa. What are the odds that the type of physical therapist Jewel needed would work there?” says Sara. “I was told, ‘We have exactly what Jewel needs.’ Samantha, whose husband is a bilateral amputee, made an immediate connection with Jewel. She knew exactly what Jewel needed, and Jewel worked hard to make Samantha proud.”
Some might say it was coincidence that a physical therapist married to a bilateral amputee worked just 20 miles away from the Hofmans, but they believe it was meant to be. Another Godwink occurred when twin calves were born, making a perfect candidate for a bucket calf project.
Jerry’s parents raise about 40 cow-calf pairs. When their first cow to calve had twins in March 2021, the bull calf was pulled off and bottled. Once Jewel returned home from the hospital, she visited Guapo every day and began bottle-feeding him. (Guapo, which means “handsome” in Spanish, is the main character in the movie “Ferdinand.” The family also owns a bull named Ferdinand.) Jewel’s brother Dirk helped her break Guapo to lead and give him baths.
“Gaupo has been the friend Jewel needed. She talks to him and he listens without giving her advice. He also gave her a reason to learn how to walk on her prosthetic leg because she was determined to show him at the county fair,” Jerry said. “Jewel plans to show Gaupo again next summer as a market steer, and Dirk plans to show a bucket calf at the county fair.”
Life Marches On
Life at the Hofman house is returning to its seasonal fall rhythm as the kids have returned to school and the crops are maturing. Jerry is caring for the feeder cattle daily. Sara has returned to the day-to-day management of a nursery that was built just two years ago.
From the outside, it looks like the Hofman family has returned to life as normal.
“When a cancer patient’s hair grows and he or she looks healthy on the outside, people think this person is all better,” says Sara. “Different cancers require different treatments. Jewell got the worst of the worst because her cancer is so rare and so serious. The side effects of chemo are brutal. Jewel still struggles.”
During Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month in September, you can help the Hofman family educate others about childhood cancer by sharing facts and stats on social media. Another way to help is by following Latham® dealer Kyle Schminke and his daughter Sarah on Sunday, October 10, as they run in the Chicago Marathon to raise funds for the University of Iowa Dance Marathon (UIDM).
The UIDM has pledged $5 million to the 11th floor of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital that was named the University of Iowa Dance Marathon Pediatric Cancer Center. (The 11th floor is the one that gets “the wave” during University of Iowa home football games.) This student-run organization also has pledged $2 million to establish the University of Iowa Dance Marathon Chair in Pediatric Oncology, Clinical and translational Research.
The Schminkes will be running with a list of 26 names of children on their arms. Jewel’s name will be one of their “mile motivators.” Sarah knows that looking down at the names on her arm will be the motivation she needs to keep running and to finish strong. #Jewelstrong.
“We can’t thank Dance Marathon enough,” says Jerry. “While Jewel was in the hospital, a guy ran for 24 hours straight. He spelled out the names of kids as he ran, and Jewel was one of the names he spelled. We appreciated that so much. We also had wristbands made with Jewel’s name. One lady wore that wristband when she traveled to D.C. to advocate for childhood cancer. Their support means so much.”
In honor of September as Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, today we’re sharing one of the Hofman family’s favorite recipes.
Recipe by Hofman Family
- 2 C. pumpkin
- 2 C. sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 C. Mazola oil
- 2 C. flour
- 1 t. baking soda
- 1 t. cinnamon
- 2 t. baking powder
- ½ t. salt
- 6 oz. cream cheese
- 2 C. powdered sugar
- ½ stick oleo
- 1 t. vanilla
Bars: Mix together pumpkin, eggs, sugar and oil. Add the remaining ingredients. Bake in an 11x15-inch greased and floured pan at 350° for 30 minutes.
Frosting: Mix together and frost cooled bars.