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Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

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

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

The cover of “From Cancer to Kinnick: Love Finds a Wave”

Now 14 and starting her freshman year at Jeff’s alma mater, Alleman High School in Rock Island, Ava is in remission and wrote an introduction to Hoskins’ memoir of their extraordinary experiences – “From Cancer to Kinnick: Love Finds a Wave,” to be released Sept. 3 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-Milan 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

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Jeff and Ava Hoskins at their first book signing at the I-80 Truck Stop, Walcott.

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.”

The purpose of the book is to give thanks, hope, to inspire the giving of love and hope, and to show “love, peace, joy and beauty can be present even in the worst of circumstances,” he wrote. His family’s strong Catholic faith is essential, sustained them, and carried them through this staggering fight with cancer.

“I want to give thanks to God for providing strength and peace to our family and for placing so

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava blowing bubbles at the Iowa City hospital.

many beautiful people in our life to help us carry the cross of a critically ill child.”

In advance praise for the book, University of Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz wrote of Hoskins: “He takes you through how his faith, a great medical team and the goodness of people helped him cope with the overwhelming fear and despair. It is an inspiration to know any one of us can make a difference for children and families going through the worst of times.”

“Sometimes a small gesture becomes an inspiration,” wrote Mary Joy and Jerre Stead of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where Ava was treated. “It turns out when you combine the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital with doctors,

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava (center) with Macy and Brady Hoskins.

nurses, volunteers, coaches, players, patients, parents, and fans ― with a simple wave — the results are an enormous feeling of pure joy.”

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

“The hospital was built with kind of that in mind, so the patients could kind of watch the game,” he said, noting a Hawkeye fan suggested doing the wave to kids in the hospital, and a guy who runs a Hawkeye fan Facebook page spread the word and it snowballed into a movement.

The cover photo of his book is of Ava in the stands doing the wave at the first game in fall 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 top floor of the hospital features a “Press Box” where patients and families can come together on home game Saturdays to watch the Hawkeyes play.

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava, Brady and Macy Hoskins in their best Hawkeye gear at Stead Family Children’s Hospital, overlooking Kinnick Stadium.

“From the windows of the press box, there’s a near-perfect view of Kinnick Stadium for patients to cheer on their beloved Hawkeyes,” wrote Sports Illustrated in 2018. “Children often tape signs and posters to the windows in their rooms in support of the team and now, fans support them back with the Iowa wave.”

Hoskins is donating all proceeds from the sale of this $19.95 book to the Children’s Hospital. He said he didn’t intend to write a book, but he really wanted to help others.

“After everything was all done, I just was so grateful for everything people have done and I didn’t want to forget it,” he said. “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,” Hoskins said. “And so I wanted to write a reminder to myself really, what this time was like and maybe a memento for the family and then after was written, I thought, well, maybe other people might like this too.”

From China to Rock Island to Iowa City

After Jeff and Renae (a nurse) had their second child in 1996, they thought they were done, a perfect family with a boy and girl. “I felt like we were being called to adopt when our biological kids were still fairly young,” Hoskins said recently. “And so we pursued that as foster parents,

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

The Hoskins family with nearly 1-year-old Ava in Wuhan, China in early 2008.

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 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, and she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when she was 9, after noticing her left eye was swollen. It turned out a tumor was growing behind her eye, and thankfully they didn’t have to do any cutting on her head or face for doctors to get the tissue sample for a biopsy. “They just ended up spelunking through her left nostril,” Hoskins wrote.

It was Aug. 3, 2016, that Ava was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. “Though her treatment was a harrowing experience, it was punctuated by acts of love great and small, exemplified par excellence by the Kinnick Wave,” Hoskins wrote.

The cancer was rhabdomyosarcoma, 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.

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava doing the Kinnick wave at University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium in fall 2018.

“That kind of cancer is fairly rare, but it wasn’t unusual to be stage four,” Hoskins said. “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 took and nobody knew until it started causing problems. So, you know, she had 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 upends your life,” he said. “Your

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava in July 2016, a month before her stage 4 cancer diagnosis.

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,” Hoskins said. “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.”

Several of his family members had died from lung cancer, including his father (a longtime smoker), who passed away before they adopted Ava. “When a kid gets it for no reason, you know, it’s hard to make sense of that,” Hoskins said.

The new Stead Family Children’s Hospital opened in 2017, during Ava’s treatment, and the family noticed

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava with two of her doctors in Iowa City.

the huge difference.

“The difference was amazing. It’s such a wonderful place,” Hoskins said. “The care was great both ways, but just the amenities and just the room itself — it’s basically floor-to-ceiling windows and it’s just bright and it’s not a depressing place like at the other place.” They also enjoyed a 12th-floor outdoor garden there.

With her exhausting chemo and radiation, Hoskins wrote that they were “so proud how Ava faced this and all of the other necessary brutality she had to endure. When she was younger, it took a roll of duct tape, three nurses, and a WWF wrestler to hold her down for a shot. Even when she gave blood for her allergy test a few weeks before her diagnosis she was sweating profusely and needed us to sit next to her to comfort her.

“In her treatment she became a warrior princess,” the book says. “She had so many shots, blood draws and IVs, but since she knew she needed them she put on a brave face and bit the bullet.”

Running into Carson King and Dance Marathon kids

Ava and her family also happened to be at the hospital in October 2019 for a follow-up visit when infamous Iowa State football fan Carson King donated $3 million to the hospital, and she took a photo with him.

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava and Brady Hoskins at a UI Dance Marathon fundraising event in Chicago.

The Cyclone fan gained national attention for holding a sign asking for beer money on ESPN at the Cy-Hawk game in Ames. Instead of keeping the online donations, King chose to start a fundraiser for the Stead Family Children’s Hospital through his Venmo account. In total, $3 million came in, including matching donations from Venmo and Anheuser-Busch.

“I was glad I could thank him personally for his generosity and let him know how much I appreciated and admired what he had done,” Hoskins wrote of King. “That encounter echoes one of the reasons I wrote this book – to give a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to the countless number of people, known and unknown, who have given so generously and selflessly to help us in our times of need.”

Another fundraising machine, the University of Iowa Dance Marathon, was a big help to the Hoskins family. “Ava’s story is truly inspiring! Ava’s is one of the many reasons we dance―to ensure no family is on this journey alone,” Anna Soergel, assistant director, UI Dance Marathon, wrote of the new book.

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava got to meet Carson King in October 2019, the day he happened to bring a $3 million donation to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“We were actually part of this before she was diagnosed ‘cause our kids were involved with it,” Hoskins said of Dance Marathon. “We’ve seen both sides of Dance Marathon and it’s such a wonderful organization and it’s not just fundraising, which is what I thought it was for so long until we were on the other end. And they just provide so much support to families and we are so grateful for what they did for us. They were always there, the kids, the students in Dance Marathon were there almost every day we were in the hospital, asking Ava if she needs anything or to hang out with her, play a game with her, or whatever, and they were just a wonderful group.

“They funded a large part of the 11th floor at the hospital, which is where the cancer center now is,” he said. “But they also provide tailored support to families, which is something I had no idea. I mean, they paid for our co-pays for our prescriptions — and she was on so many medications, so that helped tremendously. They provide meal cards, so you didn’t have to eat hospital food all the time and they just did different things, whatever your own need. They were there to help support that.”

University of Iowa Dance Marathon pledged $5 million to the new building and the 11th floor is called the

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Ava Hoskins on her first day of 3rd grade.

University of Iowa Dance Marathon Pediatric Cancer Center. Dance Marathon creates and sustains special projects to provide emotional and financial support and services for pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant patients and their families treated at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, and has raised nearly $32 million over the past 28 years.

Ava – who graduated this past spring from Jordan Catholic School as an 8th grader – was used to doing schoolwork from home, so the 2020-21 pandemic wasn’t a big change, Hoskins said.

“When the pandemic hit us, it was like, we’d been living that way for a few years already,” he said. “So it

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

Anna Dodge is executive director of the 28th University of Iowa Dance Marathon, which raises money for the Children’s Hospital and families it serves.

wasn’t anything new because we had already made arrangements with our school. She had a Chromebook at home and was able to do stuff from home and she wanted to make sure she kept up with school because she wanted to graduate with her class, and so she was really motivated to do that. And all the precautions and masks and we keep sanitizer in the car and all that. And we’ve been doing that for years already. So, it wasn’t anything different.”

Hoskins is also very grateful his family has great health insurance, and they bring Ava back to Iowa City for checkups about every six months. “

We were blessed to have a job. I mean, I can’t imagine going through it without insurance, because we’re in the millions of dollars as far as care goes, but, you know, it’s your child,” he said. “I mean, what else would I spend the money on?”

You can order a copy of the new book at https://icecubepress.com/2021/06/08/from-cancer-to-kinnick-2/.

Rock Island Father Pens Book In Gratitude For Support During Daughter’s Cancer Treatment

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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