I was lucky to be married to the most wonderful man from November 23, 1996 - July 7, 2014.
Only 17 years, 7 months and 14 days ... 6,435 of the most wonderful days of my life, I just wish there were more.
Kidney Cancer may have cut his life short, but he lived a wonderful life.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I Choose to Remain #HOFFstrong

Today while driving to work, it dawned on me that I have chosen to deal with the immense grief I am feeling with the same attitude we chose to deal with his cancer.

I am choosing to be strong, hold my head high, not wallow in self pity over the crummy hand we were dealt and most importantly not falling into the daily pity party on social media. Now I am not saying that I won't post that I miss Don or that life is different, however, I refuse to let myself become one of those people that constantly post depressing messages on social media. I absolutely refuse to do that (I may be guilty of doing this on Twitter ... but that stops today). From day one of our cancer journey we didn't post or blog about how it wasn't fair or that our life was horrible, that just wasn't us. We accepted it and lived life to its fullest in spite of the cancer. We chose to deal with it as a matter of fact and to be transparent in our feelings, however, not let the cancer diagnosis define us. Therefore, I have chosen to not let the heartbreaking grief I have define me.

Don was a lover of life and I like to think that is what he loved about me. We embraced each day with new possibilites of 'what if'. Cancer may have changed things for us, however, it didn't change us. We didn't allow cancer to define the people we were, so I can't let grief define me either.

This video was from 2009 after Don was diagnosed with cancer and after we learned that it had spread to his lungs. His attitude was amazing.

To honor my absolutely fabulous and wonderful husband I will live the remainder of my days honoring him by smiling more, talking to strangers and remembering the great love we shared. I will try to get out more and experience life with friends and be the kind of person Don was. I will become someone that doesn't let life's events outline my life, just the way Don lived his entire life.

I will continue to feel the immense emotions that come with loosing your soul-mate freely. I will cry when I feel like it, I will acknowledge and accept both positive and negative feelings and I will not minimize how I feel. I will honor my husband by dealing with this grief the same way we handled the initial diagnosis. I will be strong when I need to be and I will be easy on myself on the days when I can't be strong.

Tomorrow I will start a new journey with a Support Group for people who have lost a loved one. I will share my amazing love story and hopefully gain strength and experience the soul calming effect of being with people who understand how you feel. 

I do all of this because of the great man who I loved with my entire being. I do this to honor that love and to show him that I am that same strong woman he fell in love with. I do this to help my heart heal from the devastating loss.

I do this because if I don't ... I let cancer win and that is not what being #HOFFstrong was all about.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I Have a Shovel

3 weeks ago my husband had a shovel and everything in the garage was his. Now, I have a shovel and just that alone is so overwhelming to me. I don't know why I never considered the shovel or any of the power tools mine, but now I have shovels and hoes and work gloves and stuff that I feel so overwhelmed with.

Erica, Audrey, my Mom and I spent the last week in Daytona Beach. We should have been there with Don enjoying the sun and watching Audrey swim. It was the first trip to Daytona Beach I have taken in 19 years without Don and it was rough. My Mom did a fabulous job of keeping my mind occupied, but when it was silent, my thoughts always crept back to Don. 

I am still in shock in how fast the last days went. Two weeks before Don passed he had received chemo and his blood work looked OK. But the last Vandy appt. where the blood work was dismal and clearly showed disease progressions and then him slip away 4 days later just doesn't make sense to me. How did it happen so fast? Deep down I know it didn't happen fast, it was actually happening all along for the past 6 months, but it felt fast. 

I feel so confused about him passing only 4 days after stopping treatment. I am so crazy in love with him that being on this earth without him is sad. I know that this grieving is all a transition that I have to go through ... just pisses me off that I have to. 

So, I have a shovel ..... what in the hell do with a shovel?

Friday, July 18, 2014

I miss his smile. I miss everything about him.

Picture taken 7/5/14
I often underestimate my strength. I don't see that I am strong, even though I hear it from people constantly, I see things that need to be done and I do them.

But I don't know how to be strong anymore. Before I was always strong for Don. Always being there for him and try to make little jokes and try to keep the little edge of sadness away. However, Don is gone and I am lost.

I started back to work Monday (7/14/14). Only one week after loosing the single most important person in my life. I tried to act like it was just any other day. I tried to keep a smile on my face and tell people I was OK, but I am not. I miss my husband. I miss every single thing about him. I am lost without him.

I went home after work, fixed myself a sandwich, loved on my dogs and sat there in the house all alone. No one was there to ask me about my day at work. No one to ask for a kiss. No one was there, just a house full of flowers. I just sat there. I decided to vacuum and dust and then moved onto doing a load of wash. Then I just sat there again. LOST. I don't know what to do with myself. I am sad and broken hearted. I am thankful that Erica and Audrey still live with me, however, on this day, I was by myself in the house and it was just overwhelmingly sad.

I know that when Don died, a part of me went with him. I can feel the void in my life and in my heart. Don's larger than life personality is gone and I can feel the void deep in my soul.

I miss him. I miss his smile. I miss everything about him.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Memorial for a Wonderful Man

On Friday, July 11, 2014 we gathered at the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home to say goodbye and celebrate the life of Donald "Snowball" Hoff Jr. The best man I have ever known.

Don's beautiful Mother of Pearl urn.
Don's memorial was beautiful. The flowers from friends, TVA Environmental Group, Hamilton Place Management office, Crisp & Crisp and family were beautiful.

Don's obituary stated that no one wear black and no one did! It was wonderful. Don would have gotten a kick out of seeing so many TVA guys in Hawaiian shirts. That's one picture I should have taken. There was so many people that it was impossible for me to visit with everyone. It wasn't a somber event, it was a celebration of life! Per Don's request we had food there, everyone who knew Don well got a chuckle from this ... Don loved his food!

We had canvas photos around the rooms of Don and of our family vacations. We hung up Don's Button Blanket on the wall and also had pictures of him in his regalia, along with his hand drum and his regalia apron. It was a beautiful display of a full life. There was also a DVD playing of pictures of Don's life. I narrowed it down to 300 photos ... that was as low as I could narrow it. Seriously how do you show 61 years of a life well lived in photos? It's hard.

The memorial was exactly as Don had wanted it to be. When we planned it back during the Spring '14, you don't know how things will turn out. You can hope for the best and I am happy to say that of all the long talks Don and I had about this day, it was exactly like he wanted. It was a Celebration of the wonderful life he led. So many people talking about his infectious smile and him just being a good friend. Don was very loved by nearly everyone that came across his path.

It was a tribute fitting of a man that had the best personality and outlook on life than anyone I will ever meet.

I love you Don.

If you would like to view the slide show of pictures, click here. Look to the right and click on Play Movie. It is truly beautiful.

I miss him so much.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don "Snowball" Hoff Jr. 1953 - 2014

Donald "Snowball" F. Hoff Jr.
(1953 - 2014)

Donald "Snowball" Hoff, Jr., age 61, of Hixson, passed away on Monday, July 07, 2014 after a courageous five and half year battle with Kidney Cancer. 

He was born and raised in Ketchikan, Alaska, Don moved to Chattanooga in 1996 when he married Lookout Valley native Susan White. 

Don is from the Tlingit Nation of Southeast Alaska. He is a member of the Tongass Tribe, Gaan axi adi Clan, Raven House and Tlingit name is Aan Kadax Tseen, which means Happy Man in a Village. 

Don loved gardening, was an accomplished oil painter, enjoyed doing native beading and carving and the highlight of his older years was spending time with his grandchildren. During his life he worked many professions including serving our country in the United States Navy, working on the Alaska Pipeline, Commercial Fishing, Alaska State Trooper dispatcher, City Council member in Ketchikan, OSHA President for State of Alaska, Vice Mayor of Ketchikan, Alaska, Fisheries Tech with the US Forest Service and Environmental Tech with TVA. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, Don Sr. and Tillie Hoff and brothers, John and Ross Hoff; father-in-law, David White, Sr. 

Don is survived by his soul mate of 19 years Susan White Hoff, daughters, Erica Hoff, Hixson, Lisa (Scott) Fisher, Wasilla, AK; son, Daniel Hoff, Eugene, OR; special niece, Kimberly (Don) Putnam, Decatur, IL; granddaughter, Audrey Hoff, Hixson; grandson, Asher Putnam, Decatur, IL; brothers, Kenneth (Sandi) Hoff and Jimmy (Charm) Hoff, Juneau, AK; sisters, Rosemary (Ernie) Ellison, Juneau, AK, Annie (Tom) Trudeau, Craig, AK, Darlene (Jeff) Armbruster, Paso Robles, CA and Linda (Steve) Hansen, Ketchikan, AK; mother and father-in-law, Charles and Libby Hamlin; sister-in-law, Cheryl Smith, all of Whitwell; brother-in-law, David (Carmen) White, Ider, AL; many nieces and nephews. 

Special thanks to Dr. Puzanov, Debbie Wallace and Pam Williamson of Vanderbilt and to Mother-in-law, Libby White-Hamlin for helping care for him and also his co-workers at TVA. 

The family will receive friends from 4 to 8 pm on Friday, July 11 followed by a celebration of "Snowball's" life at the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home. 

Don will be cremated and his ashes will be spread in Alaska on lands that held special meaning. 

Don's request is that no one wears black to his funeral. Wear bright colors and don't be sad, but celebrate the great life he had. Don's fight for years to live has set an example of how not to give up but to enjoy life even in the face of severe circumstances. 

Arrangements are by the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist, 5401 Highway 153, Hixson. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hardest Goodbye of our Lives

This is a hard post and I am both thankful that I can share via our blog and mad that social media exists because this is so impersonal. 

Yesterday (7/3/14) at Vanderbilt the decision was made to cease treatment as the chemo has stopped working. We have made the hardest decision of my life to call Hospice. 

My super strong soulmate, my Tlingit warrior's body is tired and he's fought hard for 5.5 years. I had hoped and prayed that he would beat this and defy the odds. I wanted to have my brown knight with me forever, but that's not going to happen. Life is unfair and I am beyond heartbroken. 

Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we deal with the hardest goodbye of our life.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What is a Miracle?

Mother's Day 2014 at the Hamilton Place Carnival
What is a miracle? Some people use the word miracle in every day language, so it's meaning gets misconstrued. Some says it's a miracle that they got out of bed after the big party, or it's a miracle that they had enough milk for breakfast. So, I have been extremely hesitant to say that Don's current medical condition is a miracle. Mainly, I have been afraid of jinxing myself.

Here is how Webster's Dictionary describes a miracle: 1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs 2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.

So, with that definition, I feel free to say that I am convinced that Don's present state of mind and the state of his health is a miracle. He has defied the odds and continues to amaze not only me, but his medical team as well. I think if you had asked anyone that saw Don on a daily or weekly visit, you would not have expected him to be thriving and living the life he is today. It truly is amazing. He is my miracle.

Our visit to Illinois for grandson Asher's 2nd birthday
Last week Don had a CT scan at Vanderbilt. His previous CT scan was in January 2014, so this one was the one that was going to tell us if the Avastin was working or if the cancer was progressing. I was very nervous and kept it to myself. However, my anxiety was off the charts. Going to Vanderbilt on May 8, 2014 to get the results, fear filled my heart. I was on the verge of one single bad news catapulting me into a basket case, however, I kept it together and just kept telling myself that "we are strong, we are confident and we can get through this". It became my little mantra.

Don's labs that day came back great and that was a little extra pressure removed and when Dr. Puzanov walked into the room. I could feel a little more pressure being removed from my shoulders. Dr. P. didn't start off asking Don how he felt and he didn't come in with that sympathetic voice some Drs have. He came in and said "my first look and it looks good, really much better than January." That's all I needed to hear for my heart to let go of the vice-grip it had and for my mind to ease a little. "Not as bad as January" was music to my ears! I was still a little scared, since the actual radiologist report hadn't come back, so Dr. P. was going on his look at the scans. Thankfully, Dr. P knows me well, and pulled up the scan from January 2014 and the recent scan and physically measured right there in front of us the decreases in the main tumors. I love it when a man can prove something to me!

Don and daughter Lisa at Chester
Frost Park May 12, 2014
So, not all is perfect with the CT scan, we still have issues. Some little areas of concern, but here is what the Radiologist says of the overall impression from the scans:
  • Decreasing conspicuity of metastatic lesions in the chest is slight.
  • Osseous metastatic disease with metastatic disease at L1 and L4 with pathological fractures at these levels not changed since prior study.
  • Slight decrease in the large pericardial effusion.
  • There is increasing conspicuity of metastatic renal lesions in the lower pole in remaining kidney.

So, just hearing the words decreasing is phenomenal!

Here are some other highlights and low lights from the scan:
  • Destructive mass involving left third rib was 5.1cm, now 4.8cm
  • Soft tissue involving the paraverebral areas along the left lateral aspect of the spine at the T3 and T10 level, now 31mm, was 33mm. (hell ya I get excited over 2mm!)
  • Bulkiness of soft tissue involving the posterior right 4th rib has decreased. Greatest axial dimension of this area is slightly diminished, now 7.4cm, was 7.5cm. The thickness has decreased considerably from 38mm to 17mm. (that's 50% smaller!!)
  • Nodular changes about the heart are stable.
  • Only bad news on scan is that the dominant nodule in anterior chest measures 62mm in greatest dimension, previously measured 49mm. (62mm = 2.44 inches; going to discuss options on this next week)
  • Right paratracheal lymph node measuring 18mm, was 21mm.
  • Adrenal gland has decreased from 69mm to 55mm.
  • Small masses increasing in left kidney, lack of contrast does not allow for definitive determination.
  • Left acetabular soft tissue measures 35mm, was 50mm and has decreased in thickness, right acetabular soft tissue and left iliac soft tissue similar changes.
  • Pathological fractures involving pelvis are stable.

So, you can read this and see why I am now saying that my husband is miraculous! Friends, a few months ago I was in the darkest days of my life. I thought it was down to days, maybe weeks and Don would be gone. I never thought he would be taking his daughters to Chester Frost Park and laying out in the sun on May 14, 2014!

I don't know if his health is truly a miracle, but I do know that Don's positive attitude and his love of life and love of living life has played a great part in his overall well being. He is still my happy go-lucky husband. He may move a little slower, but he'll get there! He may grimace with pain a little, but the smile is still there. There is an amazing sparkle of life in his eyes and I am thankful for the extra time that we have been granted.

Don't take any days for granted ... we never will!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Word of the day is ENCOURAGING!

No cane & walking around Vandy!

The one word to best describe the present state of Don's health is ENCOURAGING! I am totally bewildered about the overall turn around from a few short months ago. The words I have used lately to describe all aspects of Don is crazy, amazing and just WOW. I knew I was married to an amazing man, but he has proven over and over again that he is a fighter. I will be honest, just a few short months ago, I didn't expect Don to still be with us. I believe that he had one foot in the 'other world'. He was incapable of taking care of himself and needed 24/7 care. He wasn't eating or drinking very much, slept 20+ hours a day. It was rough on all of us. I truly believed that he was slipping away. I had started the grieving process, even though I didn't want to, but my heart saw the downward spiral he was taking. I was thinking the worst was happening.

And then one day, he started joining us at the dinner table. Then the next he was eating and drinking without us pestering him to do so. Then, he wasn't sleeping most of the day. He was alert and started to have that little sparkle back in his eye. Three weeks ago we went to Vanderbilt and he was riding around in the wheelchair, this past week, he went in with his walker and cane! He even ditched the walker and went into to get labs with just his cane! I nearly cried. This is just an amazing thing to see my husband again ... see the "old" Don.

Chattanooga Pow Wow
I have given all the credit to two very special visits he has received from sister Darlene and brother Kenny & friend Ken Patton. They came down and jump started his soul! Since they have visited, he is a different person. It was wonderful to have Dar and Kenny visit, to see the joy in Don's face when sitting around talking with them and to just talk. It was good for all of us!

OH! Another thing I have noticed is that Don is drinking coffee again! This may not seem like a big deal, but for months he hasn't wanted coffee .... and that was ODD! Don couldn't function without coffee back in the day! Well lately I have noticed that he has been drinking the coffee we give him in the morning, even asked for a second cup today, BUT the big news is that he has taken Erica coffee to her while getting ready TWICE! People ... this is huge! He is becoming more independent, and I am just flabbergasted! (how do you like that word?!? Trying to not say amazing so much LOL)

Don is feeling so much better that we are taking my parents to our friend's cabin in the Smoky Mountains Thursday - Sunday of this week! It's truly amazing that he is able to and wants to travel and spend time away from home. I honestly didn't think going to the cabin was in our future anymore.

Ken Patten, Erica, Don, brother Kenny & Audrey
As you can tell from this blog update, I am literally smiling all the way through it! I don't know how long this will last and I don't care. What I care about in the moment is that I have my Don back ... I have a partner once again who is making decisions with me and helping as much as he can. We have been given more time and I am not going to waste a single minute!

P.S. Don met a guy at the Infusion Lab last week at Vanderbilt and gave him his card. They talked about the guy's visit to Ketchikan years ago and talked about the necklace Don was wearing. It was a great conversation and helped pass the time waiting! Well, yesterday Don received a letter from this guy with a handmade necklace made from a plane crash years ago. Don truly touches everyone he meets.

We are having a CT Scan on May 7 and receive the results May 8, so please keep him in your prayers. They are definitely working!

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Husband is AMAZING!

Easter Bunny visit at Hamilton Place.
L to R: Don, Susan, Kenny Hoff, Erica,
Bunny and Ken Patten

I am married to Superman ... seriously, I really think I am!

Many times in the last few months I thought that Don wouldn't be here the next month. There were days when Don slept all day, didn't want to eat or drink much and I was starting to lose hope. Then just like the blink of the eye, Don is eating more, staying awake all day, drinking lots of liquids and moving around better and faster! Seriously, he is amazing!

I credit Don's energized state to the recent visits of his sister Darlene and his brother Kenny's visits. Having them here has done wonders for Don's mind. Their visits energized him and jump started his metabolism and for that I am so thankful! I love that Don is loving his life right now. Sure he still has pain, but it's under control and just the fact that he wants to get up and out of the house is fabulous!

Grandpa and Audrey with her new bike!
Another thing that lets me know that Don is feeling better is that he has been on Facebook the last few days and he has been calling up friends. This is huge! He feels good enough to chit-chat ... if you could see the smile on my face, then you could really know how much I am loving this!

I know that the future is still rough, we know that the word CURE is not in our future, however, we will gladly take all of these extra bonus days, weeks and months!

So tonight, I am breathing a little easier, I am a little less stressed and I am thankful for my amazing husband!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Day at a Time

March 12, 2014 at Vanderbilt
You think you know what 'one day at a time' means until you are literally living ONE DAY AT A TIME. I can't tell you what Don's days are going to be like today, tomorrow, much less next week. It's ever changing. One day Don will be great and join us at the dinner table, ask for seconds and astound his entire family and the next day he literally sleeps half the day away.

And that's the hardest part of the part of the cancer journey we are on now, the ever-changing. I don't know what the next day will bring and that frustrates me and just makes me sad. No self respecting control freak can handle not knowing the future.

Don continues to fight the cancer beast and his will to live one more day is strong. We all know where this battle will eventually lead us, however, Don is not going down without a valiant fight. Some people would go ahead and say that's it, I am tired of fighting and hurting, however, Don is always up for his next battle. When a Dr. suggested that it was time to rest and stop chemotherapy because his body was tired - Don said NO. I respect that fight in him and it is what makes me love him! Don still has things unresolved that he needs to figure out. He is not ready to rest and let cancer take over. So, we will continue and go to Vanderbilt every two weeks for Avastin chemo infusions as long as we are able to. Don has a CT scan around the end of April and then we will know for sure where we are at combating the spread of the cancer.

Don's sister Darlene came to visit from California!
This is the hardest thing I have done or will ever do ... watch my husband of 17.5 years suffer daily with the simple task of just getting out of bed. It is heart wrenching to see him in so much pain. I pray for days when he is able to sleep peacefully at night, I always keep one hand on his chest so I can feel his heart beating and know that he is comfortable. The good days Don gets up before I leave for work and sits in his recliner with coffee or Ensure and is semi ready for the day. His days revolve around napping and watching TV. Going outside or anywhere takes a lot of effort on his part and some days he just doesn't have the energy to spare a trip as simple as going to the grocery store.

And the things I miss the most with Don being housebound are the simple mundane things like going grocery shopping, going to the SAM's or Costco and just strolling around looking around for things we need for later in the season. This time of year we would be thinking of summer and planning out the little details of our summer Florida vacation or buying things to take to the lake and for family picnics, however, those days are gone. I miss them. I never thought that something so simple would be missed so much.

I also miss talking to Don. I have noticed lately that when we are sitting together, he is a mix between watching TV and asleep. We don't have the talks that we once had and I miss that. I miss having my partner in life helping me make decisions for our future. I miss being able to leave things up to him and letting him make decisions. I just miss a lot of stuff that cancer is slowly stealing from us.

Playing catch with Asher!
I am lucky though, I have had five years to get slowly used to the idea that cancer would steal our future, not months like some couples have. However, are you every really ready to watch the love of your life lose their battle with cancer?

I know that I will look back on these days and realize that these are the easiest days, as the hardest days are yet to come ... and that scares me beyond comprehension.

Don and I did make a big step and called a local company Palliative Care and are seeking their help with pain management and next appt. we will meet with a social worker. It is a good step that we took and I am looking forward to their help.

Don isn't on Facebook much lately and doesn't really text either, however, I do let him know when he has messages and sometimes he will tell me what to respond with. He loves all the cards and letters he has been receiving and we tape them up for him to see all day long. Thank you to each and everyone of you who have sent something - it makes all of our days brighter to see him smile when he opens another card!

Continue to keep us in your prayers. We go to Vanderbilt again on 3/27/14 and will see Dr, have blood drawn, hopefully receive chemo and also meet with the orthopedist regarding the leg and arm pain.

Prayers are always accepted and appreciated.

Much love ~ the Southern Hoff's

Location:Adams Rd,Chattanooga,United States