Braden Hofer of Olathe, Kan., is only 9 years old, but he’s been diagnosed with cancer three times.
Yet now, thanks to a courageous bone-marrow transplant from older brother Zachary, Braden’s parents are hoping this time the cancer is beaten for good.
Braden was first diagnosed with cancer after a Dec. 28, 2007, visit to the ER for abdominal pains. According to the family’s CaringBridge webpage, a chest x-ray revealed a large white shadow, which doctors later confirmed was a stage four neuroblastoma, a rare tumor found in infancy and early childhood.
Though the initial prognosis was good, Braden relapsed in August of 2009, and doctors informed the family there is no known cure for relapsing neuroblastoma.
Shockingly, Braden’s mother was battling stage-two breast cancer at the time of Braden’s relapse.
On Jan. 26, 2011, amazing news came in, as explained in the CaringBridge page: “We heard the words we have prayed for since Braden’s relapse. After his scans in [Philadelphia], Braden’s MIBG scan was completely normal and he shows no evidence of disease. Thank you, God!”
Yet once again, in July of 2013, Braden’s doctors brought the bad news: The boy was suffering from a leukemia-like secondary cancer called MDS and would need a bone-marrow transplant to survive.
As it turns out, that transplant could only come from one donor.
“In doing that search,” Braden’s father, Brian, told KDAF-TV in Kansas City, “[it] turned out that his brother Zachary, who is now 11 years old, is the only match in the world.”
Young Zachary would have to travel to Philadelphia and be stuck with needles about 50 times by his count to complete the transplant, but Braden’s big brother explained why he chose to undergo the frightening process: “If I didn’t donate, he would die.”
Brian Hofer told KDAF he is exceptionally grateful and proud of his older son for going through with it.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” he said. “It’s a situation where he recognized that being the match, it needed to be done, and he’s been extremely brave throughout the whole process. No child wants to get stuck with needles.”
When Zachary returned home to Olathe, the community showed up to give him a hero’s welcome.
Members of the Olathe Fire Department came to show their support, and members of the military presented him with a plaque for his bravery.
Brian Hofen told KDAF they wanted to celebrate Zach's bravery and hopefully encourage other kids not to be afraid in a situation like this.
"Help other people. That's the values that most every parent and person in this world is trying to instill in children, and so why wouldn't we want to reinforce that?" Brian said.
In fact, the Hofens started a non-profit foundation called Braden's Hope for Childhood Cancer to raise awareness and funds for research grants to hospitals and/or research institutions battling childhood cancer.
"Braden's mom was fighting stage two breast cancer at the same time Braden has been fighting his relapse," the website explains. "Awareness of and treatment options for her cancer compared to Braden’s were drastically different, and this showed the family that a change had to be made for our children just as has been done for breast cancer. Our goal is to create awareness and increase funding for the research so desperately needed to find cures for childhood cancers."
In addition to working with the nation's top children's cancer hospitals, Braden's Hope maintains a "heroes and angels" page so others can share messages of hope and encouragement with the families of children battling cancer.