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Public Safety & Health

From Cancer to Kinnick: Love Finds a Wave

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Jeff and Ava Hoskins
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Jeff and Ava Hoskins at a recent book signing in Walcott, Iowa.

A father in Rock Island has written a book to thank people for their support during his daughter's cancer treatment.

When Jeff and Renae Hoskins of Rock Island adopted their little girl from China in early 2008, they had no idea that eight years later, Ava and her family would be plunged into an un-imaginable bout with a rare, advanced childhood cancer.

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Jeff Hoskins
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from the cover of Jeff Hoskins' "From Cancer to Kinnick: Love Finds a Wave."

Now 14 and in her freshman year at Jeff’s alma mater, Alleman High School in Rock Island, Ava is in remission and wrote an introduction to Hoskins’ new memoir of their extraordinary experiences – “From Cancer to Kinnick: Love Finds a Wave,” released recently by Ice Cube Press of North Liberty, Iowa.

“I hope that you will be inspired,” Ava wrote of the 116-page paperback. “During my journey through cancer I have learned lots of things. Cancer changed my perspective on life. If I could go back and change the past, of course I wouldn’t want cancer, but I am thankful for who I am because of it. I am a living miracle of God and I’m proud that I get this opportunity to inspire and help others.”

Hoskins – a 54-year-old data technology specialist for the Rock Island School District, who has two adult kids, 26-year-old Macy and 24-year-old Brady – begins his book with a quote from St. Francis of Assisi: “All the darkness in the world can’t extinguish the light from a single candle.” He writes that this is “an honest and heartfelt look at having a child with cancer, how that led to an outpouring of love towards our family, and a reminder that good can be found even when you least expect it.”

He says the purpose of the book is to give thanks, and to show “love, peace, joy, and beauty can be present even in the worst of circumstances.” And that his family’s strong Catholic faith is vital, sustained them, and carried them through this fight with cancer.

“That’s one of the things that got us through this, so we try to weave it into everything we do, ‘cause that’s really what’s important.”

Their faith also influenced the couple’s decision to adopt Ava.

“We felt like we were being called to adopt when our biological kids were still fairly young, and so we pursued that as foster parents, and that didn't turn out. So we just figured, we weren't supposed to adopt. And then my wife went to nursing school and actually an assignment that she did in class just made us realize that we were meant to adopt a girl from China.”

It was a two-year process, and the family brought Ava home just before her 1st birthday. She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when she was 9, in 2016, after noticing her left eye was swollen. It turned out a tumor was growing behind her eye. It was a soft-tissue cancer with no clearly known cause. Hoskins learned the five-year survival rate for a child at that stage was 30 percent, and that kind of cancer comprises just 3 percent of all childhood cancers.

“That kind of cancer is fairly rare, but it wasn't unusual to be stage four. Depending on where the cancer is, you don't know it. You don't know something's wrong. Her tumor was in her sinus cavity, and it was growing there. That's a nice, big open area where it just grew and nobody knew until it started causing problems. So, you know, she had cancer for a while before we ever knew it, but it's not necessarily unusual.”

“It certainly was a shock. It's just not something you ever expect and one day everything is fine, and the next day, you find your daughter has a tumor, so that it just completely up-ends your life. Your life is different from that point on, so it was just such a shock. But actually, the book is about people helping us along the way.”

“All these wonderful people that were there along the way really helped, you know, helped us to get through this. And she was, I'm still amazed at how strong that she is. I mean she's a small child, not a child anymore. She's a teenager, but she's small. But you see all these things being done to her and she just gets right back up and still be able to smile. It’s just, she inspired us.”

The new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital opened in 2017, during Ava’s treatment, and the family noticed the huge difference compared to the old facility.

“The difference was amazing. It's such a wonderful place. The care was great both places, but just the amenities and just the room itself - it's basically floor-to-ceiling windows and it's just bright.”

Hoskins didn’t intend to write a book, but he really wanted to help other families going through something similar.

“After everything was all done, during her first remission, I just was so grateful for everything people had done and I didn't want to forget it. Because I mean the news at that time, and on the news today just is always terrible and just there's nothing good and that wasn't really what my reality was. I mean here I was in the middle of this situation where you'd think I'd be upset, but I wasn't.

“I was so grateful and so thankful. And so I wanted to write as a reminder to myself really, what this time was like and maybe a memento for the family and then after it was written, I thought, well, maybe other people might like this.”

The cover photo of his book is of Ava in the stands at Kinnick Stadium first football game in the fall of 2018, when she was in remission. Macy and Brady both graduated from University of Iowa, and were students while Ava was undergoing treatment, so they could be together as a family.

The tradition of the “Kinnick Wave,” always done at end of the first quarter at University of Iowa home football games, where all the fans turn to the hospital and wave to cheer up the kids, started in the fall of 2017, the first football season after the hospital opened.

Hoskins is donating all proceeds from the sale of this $19.95 book to the Children's Hospital. Copies are available at
https://icecubepress.com.