We’ve all been told to follow our dreams in life.
Sometimes, it’s tough to do. Sometimes – impossible. But, other times – it works and the results are wonderful.
For Jennifer Lynn Hoffman, following her heart was an incredible journey.
Jennifer was a substitute teacher in Lancaster for years. A few years ago, she took on a couple of tutoring students during the summer for extra income. She found that her 4 students had reading issues. After talking to one of the parents, they suspected Dyslexia for that parent’s son. So Jen dove deep into learning everything she could about Dyslexia. She purchased an Orton Gillingham course, Barton Reading and Spelling, and put that student through level 1. His reading improved dramatically. Jen thought, why not have her other student also go through Level 1 to see if they would improve their reading, and they did as well.
After a further deep dive into the world of Dyslexia, Jen began to promote herself as a Dyslexia Specialist. By the end of 2015, she had 10 students with a waiting list. So she took the leap of faith and opened up WNY Dyslexia Specialists in January of 2016. 3 and a half years later, Jen and her team of teachers have over 40 students, kids, and adults, who are being helped to read, write, and spell. One incredible success stories is a 45-year-old male who came into the center with his wife, and he could not read anything. Jen took him on as a student. A year later, he is reading the newspaper.
It’s been quite a ride – and quite a learning curve. “I honestly had no idea how to run a business,” Jen recalls, “I didn’t know what systems I needed. I didn’t know how to go about hiring or renting office space. It was a HUGE learning curve. I feel that this is my calling. I’m meant to help the people of Western NY and beyond, who struggle to read to learn to read. I still have days that knock me over from a businesswoman perspective, and I must pick myself up, dust myself off, and start again.”
And again. And again. But, following your heart certainly can be challenging. Jen was clearly up to the challenge – she was thriving.
Life was great. Jennifer followed her heart and it was making a difference in the world.
Jen with her five children
Then the unexpected happened.
In July of 2018, Jen noticed a lump on her tongue. She didn’t think anything of it. Yet the lump grew. A biopsy confirmed that the lump was cancer. So at the end of September, she had a third of her tongue removed along with 50 lymph nodes from her neck. One lymph node was cancerous.
Surgery was followed by 7 weeks of radiation directly to her tongue. By the end of February, everything was fine. She went in for her 3 month follow up, and the doctors found another mass in her neck. More cancer.
It was quite a blow. “I was deflated. I had more surgery in April to remove that mass. I hadn’t even healed when another mass showed up. It took another month for a biopsy to reveal that was cancer as well. Gosh, the emotions you go through. You wonder what on earth you are doing wrong to have this keep coming back at you. You wonder why this is the path you must walk. But you know what? Failure is not an option.”
Roswell did another biopsy, and more cancer was found. This time the tumor was the largest of the other occurrences. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy at ECMC with reconstructive surgery to follow at the end of August.
Here’s the thing about Jen – she refuses to let her cancer define her. She continued her work – going into the office, meeting with parents and children.
Over time though – things changed. Jen had to come to terms with a new normal – at least a temporary one.
“I had to give my kids to other teachers. I thought after 4-5 months that I would be able to take them back, but that wasn’t to be. I learned how to really start taking care of myself. I started meditating twice a day which is a practice I continue to this day. This is one of my tools to keep me grounded and at peace. I really thought this cancer was going to be one and done. I thought I would have surgery and then radiation and then I would carry on with my life taking the business in all kinds of new and exciting directions. So, when my CT scan revealed a mass in my neck in March, I felt the wind had just be stripped from my sails. I felt like a little kid whose balloon had taken off for distant skies.”
Right now, Jen is in chemotherapy. She had her first treatment in June and begins her second July 1st. The goal is to shrink the tumor as much as possible before surgery. ”
“I was the girl who swore up and down that I would never put all that poison in my body. Now, that poison just might save my life. As I said, failure isn’t an option. I have too much that still needs to be done in my life. After chemo is done, probably at the end of August, I will have a radical neck dissection to remove the cancer and to reconstruct my neck which has been severely damaged by the tumor. This is a bit scary. It will be the longest and most serious surgery I’ve had to date. Again, I come back to my meditation and my faith that gets me through all these struggles. Finally, after I heal from surgery, I will be having radiation treatment. It looks like this will take me up until Thanksgiving time to get through all the treatment. Then there is the healing after radiation which can take weeks. Radiation is a very brutal treatment with many cumulative side effects. I am blessed to be working with a homeopathic doctor who is trying to keep me as healthy as possible through this process.”
After all – she has people to help.
“Last year we moved from a 800 square foot office to a 1600 square foot office. We just sign a lease on a satellite office in North Tonawanda, so we can reach the people of Niagara County more easily. Often we are told, new level; new devil, and that is very true. It is extremely important for me to help people with dyslexia. They are 20% of our population. They are very underserved by the education system. There are many through the state organization, Decoding Dyslexia who are working to put laws in place for early screening and having dyslexia specialists like myself in the schools. It’s hard to get those bills passed. I sit with adults in my office who just want a better life for themselves. They want to pursue their dreams, but the inability to read and spell gets in their way. They are in tears. I’m in tears. I sit with families who are disillusioned by their school and just want someone to help their child read. We can do that. We help people of all ages reading, write and spell with confidence.”
The community is rallying around Jen and her family – and that means the world to them.
“Community support and the support of my family and friends is everything just everything. I am so blessed by the cards I’ve received from all my Phi Sigma Sigma chapter sisters and other friends. They even got me 2 house cleanings. I’m so grateful. People have brought us meals. This helps so much the weeks I have chemo because the treatment puts me in bed for 3-4 days. I am just down and out. I sleep for 18 hours a day. I am not able to eat. It’s tough. But then I battle back. My husband is my rock. He is currently working 3rd shift which is tremendously difficult on both of us. I need him here just to take care of me when I’m at my worst. I just need someone to look after me, make sure I’m drinking enough, make sure I’m taking my meds, etc. It’s hard when he is either not here or he’s sleeping. Caregivers need so much support. I think they need more support than the patients, and they are often forgotten or overlooked.”
The family’s medical bills are mounting. Co-pays add up, finances are tough. There is a GoFundMe Page set up for Jen – if you would like to help – HERE IS THE LINK.
Jen is not used to needing help – she is usually the one providing the help.
“My team needs me. My family needs me. My students and prospective students need me. The teachers of WNY need me. I appreciate any help in carrying our burden here. I’m forever grateful.”
There is an upcoming benefit to help the family with their expenses.
WHEN: July 21st from 3-8 pm.
WHERE: Ironworks Banquet Hall, 196 Orchard Park Road, West Seneca
WHAT TO EXPECT: Live music, basket raffle, food and refreshments.
COST: $30 in advance, $35 at the door.
You can learn more about Jen’s business at wnydyslexiaspecialists.com
Follow Jen’s cancer journey HERE.
More information on the fundraiser HERE.