Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina begins with the words, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
For decades, I found no reason to disagree with the great Tolstoy. That is until 2017, when my wife, my Kim, was diagnosed with cancer. I realized that families in the fight against cancer or grieving for their lost loved ones cancer stole from them had so much in common. Cancer forges the common ground among us, from which we derive strength from one another.
In 2020, my dear friend Brian, with whom I had the honor of serving for decades at CIA, passed away from cancer. I stayed for hours at his wake, reminiscing with his family members and friends. My heart broke for them, and their hearts broke for my sons and me when Kim passed away a year later.
Kim fought bravely for every moment we had together. As our precious time together grew shorter in supply, our conversations became more direct and introspective. We had no interest in diluting our communication with superfluous words.
Dan Hoffman told his wife he would devote his life to raising their sons as she would have wanted.
I promised Kim I would dedicate my life to raising our sons, as she would have wished. Who will console you after I’m gone, Kim asked me one day after she had begun receiving hospice care. Only one person could comfort me, I answered, and she will no longer be on this earth.
A couple of years prior at an International Swimming League competition, I had introduced my sons and Kim to Olympic swimming gold medalist Kaitlin Sandeno. We found that we shared far more in common than a passion for swimming.
Dan Hoffman’s wife Kim told her sons she would be their guardian angel, watching over them.
Kaitlin is a national spokesperson for the Jessie Rees Foundation.
It was Kaitlin who shared the story of Jessie Rees, a junior Olympic swimmer, who passed away from brain cancer at age 12 on January 5, 2012. Even while undergoing arduous treatment, she was empathically thinking of other children like her, in the fight for their lives against pediatric cancer. She told her father she wanted to help them.
Kim Hoffman and her sons at skating.
Cancer was ruthlessly attacking Jessie’s body, but it would never take her heart, soul or mind. She chose to connect with something sacred and larger than herself.
And so, she created “Joy Jars,” which she filled with toys and gifts to brighten the days of other children stricken as she was with cancer.
The Jessie Rees Foundation honors her memory by holding Mobile Joy Jar events across the country and distributing hundreds of thousands of Joy Jars to children all over the world.
Like Jessie, my son Jerron is a competitive swimmer. He understands from firsthand experience how cancer ravages our loved ones. Doing his part with the Jessie Rees Foundation to help care for children diagnosed with cancer resonates deeply with him.
Jessie Rees preparing Joy Jars in 2011.
Jessie Rees never ever gave up. As my family and friends prepare to stuff hundreds of Joy Jars at Tyson’s Sport and Health in Virginia October 8, 2022, we can feel her spirit, inspiring us to carry on her righteous philanthropic mission.
Kim would have been proud of us all and so deeply thankful to Jessie for being a source of comfort, solace and encouragement to my sons and me.
The philosopher William James wrote that the “greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”
God bless Jessie Rees for intertwining our grieving families and showing us the way to honor the memories of our loved ones by helping to care for those in such great need.