This is a guest post by Susan Hoff-Angelin.
My late husband, Don Hoff, was larger than life. He loved life and lived it to its full extent, so when we found out he had stage IV kidney cancer in 2009, he was determined to not let it change the person he was. He never asked, “why me” and never felt sad or angry that he had cancer. He accepted that it was what it was and he was going to fight it with everything he had.
For five and half years, he fought it. Hard. He joined clinical trials through Vanderbilt University Hospital and things were going well for a number of years. It was up and down, but from 2009-2014 he was able to work his full-time job with the Tennessee Valley Authority as an Environmental Tech. He loved his job.
To show the kind of person Don was, he would dress up as Santa during the month of December and get his treatment! We brought bags of candy canes and he walked the halls of Vanderbilt giving out candy canes. No one could believe that he was a patient. His doctor once said he was the “happiest cancer patient he ever had”.
Don would wear fun shirts to get treatment. His favorite shirts were a cowboy holding an IV bag and the saying “Chemosabe – All the Cool Kids are Doing It”. His oncologist’s favorite was “My Oncologist Can Beat Up Your Oncologist.”
Sadly, in March 2014, Don started to decline and we discovered the cancer was destroying his bones. He took a leave from work and we entered into palliative care. During this time, Don continued to advocate and cheer others on through a kidney cancer support group he found on Facebook.
Don knew that his time left was short, he had not accepted it 100% as happening soon (you always hope for a miracle), but he knew he needed to have things planned out. During March 2014, he wanted to plan his Celebration of Life. We went to the local funeral home, and he told them what he wanted. He started writing out his obituary and told me when the time came, who to give what. It was all I could do to not fall apart when planning this, but his attitude towards life and what was going to come after made it hard to wallow in my own self-pity when this strong man had been fighting stage IV metastatic kidney cancer for 5 years and he was moving through the emotions and doing what he needed to do. He never lost his great attitude towards life.
On July 3, 2014, Vanderbilt made the difficult decision to stop Don’s treatment , which was difficult for him to face. But he told us all he was not scared and that he wasn’t giving up. Even though we knew what the future was. Sadly, on July 7, 2014, he took his last breath at our home after being in hospice care for only 3 days. He was not in any pain or distress, he looked at me, a tear ran down his cheek and I told him I loved him, and I would make sure all his girls were OK and he passed peacefully. The last 5.5 years fighting kidney cancer alongside of him was the easy part, navigating a life without this wonderful person beside me was the hard part.
I must share how his Celebration of Life turned out. It was the grandest of Celebration of Life, too. Don put in his obituary that he wanted people to wear bright colorful shirts and requested no dark colors. He was a Jimmy Buffett fan and everybody really turned out! There were colorful shirts at the funeral home, and his friends said it was the “best funeral they had ever been to!” It also helped that we had an adjoining room at the funeral home where there was catered food! Don didn’t want his friends and family to go hungry, so there were chicken tenders, fruit trays, cheese trays and desserts and of course lemonade! Don planned this all out 4 months before he died. I don’t know how he found the strength to do it all with a smile on his face.
I also must add that Don was a Tlingit Indian from Southeast Alaska and his Indian name was Aan Xadax Tseen, which means “Happy Man in a Village” and he lived out his name until his last breath.
While we are sad that his life on earth has ended, we are extremely comforted in knowing that he didn’t suffer all those years living with stage IV mRCC. He never felt sorry for himself. He never lost his great sense of humor and he never stopped living and loving his life until his last breath.
He is my inspiration to appreciate the little things and to remember that your attitude is the best medicine! His favorite saying was that he was “happier than a clam at high tide”.
December 19, 2022
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