The Colby Hoch Family
The Hoch Family Story

Colby was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma in 1994 when he was 2 years 8 months old. It was a long 2 years of multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation and a bone marrow transplant. The hospital was home for Colby and me as we were there more than home. His little body and spirit went through a lot, but he didn't complain. No matter what he went through, he always enjoyed and loved the people who took care of him. Whether it was his doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, x-ray techs, child life workers or our social worker, Greg. They all became our family. Before Colby relapsed, there was a 6-month period where he was able to play without worry, and just be a kid. He was able to go to preschool and make new friends. When I asked him what he would do if his cancer came back, he said "make new friends!" When we found out he had relapsed, he had less than a week and a half to live. He relapsed immediately after THON in 1997. This was the only THON, he made it to, in the White Building. He was 5 and 1/2 years old when he passed away. Colby was a wise old soul. His life was short, but it was large! He was an amazing teacher of how you can live your life.

When they confirmed that Colby relapsed, we had to drive back to Hershey for transfusions because his counts were very low. I drove down the driveway, and I assumed he was thinking that something was up because we were back to see Dr. Ungar and he was getting a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration, too. I asked him if he knew what was going on. ? He said no, and I told him that his cancer was back. He just looked at me, and I said, “are you scared?” He said, “if I die, how will I be able to talk to you?” I said, “well, if I die first, send me a balloon and I’ll come see you in my dreams. But if you die first, I’ll send them to you, and you can visit me in my dreams.” He said okay with a quick nod while he was biting his lip. I asked him what color balloon he wanted, and he said green. I said, “why green?” He said, “the glow in the dark green so I can see it at night!” I said, “I don’t know if I can find those. Pick another color just in case.”, he said, “okay, red.” That was all he needed to hear and slept the 90-minute ride to Hershey.

I had some tough conversations with Colby over those 2 1/2 years. He was a wise, old soul. One of the things that helped me begin to heal was that I realized his soul knew he would only be here for a short time and he had work to do. He spoke fluently and with complete understanding at 18 months. He was special. Sometime after he passed, I realized that his soul picked mine to be his mom out of all the other moms, and he showed me how to have grace under fire. He died in my arms. I held him for an hour. I didn’t want to let him go. Finally, when I got up and we put him in the bed, he had the most beautiful smile from ear to ear. He passed peacefully and I was so blessed and honored to bring him into the world and hand him back. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Our love story with the Arnold Air Force Society began in 1994 when we were paired with them after being diagnosed. They have not only been our organization, but part of our lives and family ever since. Believe it or not, I still have contact with our original AAS Thon chair from 1994 through social media. Through the last 26 years, we have met and become close to so many wonderful souls in the Arnold Air Society because of THON. And, because of Colby! I can humbly say that our relationship and bond could be the role model for what a family/org [Adopt-A-Family] pairing is all about. It's not just the fundraising, or the money raised. It's the loving bonds that are formed and kept for years to come. That's what it's all about deep down inside.

About 15 years ago, a special group of Arnie cadets made their way into our lives, and that set the bar high for the Arnies to follow. Going forward, canning trips and visits were like holidays at our home. Our girls grew up with our Arnies and THON. Our Arnies kept in touch and made sure that we knew they were our family, and not just that we were "their" THON family. There's a big difference. In the years to follow, we became increasingly closer to the group, members ever changing... and yet still the same. At one point, I gave them a chance to apply for another family. I told them I would let them go and not request them as our organization, so that they could have a live child. I thought it was important for them to have that. They said no! As the years followed, we stayed tight with our kids, new and old. And if you can believe, we grew even closer to the kids in our org. Almost daily contact, as they checked in with me. Canning trips and visits to our home have always been filled with a lot of home cooked food, games, dancing and love...lots and lots of love! Wonderful memories are made every time.

We live in Zionsville, 3 hours from Penn State. For years, we met halfway in Hershey to visit with our Arnies in addition to our canning weekends. We would meet for lunch or dinner, and do the Christmas Lights and rides in Hershey Park. Last year, we added Halloween at Hershey Park. Chocolate World is must as well! We usually always meet in the Fall and Spring. This summer we met to kayak. Even though we didn't have a canning trip last year, they came to stay with us for the weekend to visit. I have had the honor of attending their Air Force Balls, as well as them Commissioning’s to become Officers of the United States Air Force. We have attended one of their weddings, and I was asked to be at the finish line of the Boston Marathon to greet a past Arnie as she crossed over the line. There isn't a birthday or holiday that my phone isn't filled with love and well wishes from my Arnies. You can't even imagine how full my heart is because of the genuinely amazing love that we all share. The most beautiful part... we always tell each other I love you. Always! I had no idea how many truly amazing souls would enter our lives when we lost Colby. He left us in good hands. Although the loss is profound and life changing, we became the survivors. But our hearts grew with more family and love year after year. I can't thank their parents enough for raising such loving and thoughtful sons and daughters. They are filled with compassion and empathy, and love. They can be proud of what their children have accomplished at Penn State through THON. They have shared their children with us as they grew into adults. For that, I am truly thankful. To have the chance to influence their lives as their THON mom, it is a truly amazing gift.

We thank all of you for caring enough to help the families who are in the fight or lost their fight. Everyone is on their own journey and sometimes they are tired, and sometimes feel alone as they keep fighting. You’re all there in the background making sure we’re not. You also keep the memory of our children alive and that is such an important step in healing. We thank every one of the students who make a difference in so many lives.