Father recalls daughter’s last days

Father recalls daughters last days

Walking into Jack Hesselbrock’s office, pictures of his family and former TCU athletes cover the four walls in his room in the John Justin Athletic Center. The blue-collar work ethic and gentle kindness instilled in him by his parents during his upbringing in Cleburne have made the associate athletics director for internal relations a favorite among administrators across campus.

While the pictures with LaDainian Tomlinson might get the most attention at first glance, it is the table to the direct right that bears the most meaning and significance.

On the table are keepsakes remembering Hesselbrock’s daughter Molly, who lost a battle with cancer in February 2005.

Even as he sits down to talk about his daughter more than three years after her death, the look in his eyes is one of a man who will never forget the pain and sorrow felt during those several months of his daughter’s sickness.

Hesselbrock and his wife, Angie, first suspected something was not right with Molly when she asked them if they were ready to leave a dance competition – a true oddity as Hesselbrock said his daughter was a student of the art of dance, always wanting to watch other dance studios long after her competition had ended.

All of Molly’s tests came back negative for every sort of illness, and it wasn’t until they checked her into Cook Children’s Hospital that they received the news. Lymphoma was found in her neck and chest cavity.

Despite the disturbing news, Hesselbrock remained optimistic considering her age and good health up to that point as well as the aggressive chemotherapy treatments.

“Given the early stages, (the doctors) felt like they caught it,” Hesselbrock said.

As a freshman at R.L. Paschal High School, Molly would only go in for half-days because of the lingering fatigue felt from the chemotherapy.

The family was in good spirits as it thought the worst was behind them. Unfortunately, it had only just begun.

When the family was about to go for the last check-up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving before starting the more aggressive Stage 2 treatment, Molly came down ill and the nightmare was repeating itself.

The cancer had returned.

“It was like being shot in the stomach,” Hesselbrock said.

Starting on Thanksgiving morning, the Hesselbrocks went ahead with the extensive chemotherapy treatment and practiced other procedures such as stem cell harvesting and a bone marrow transplant, which would restrict Molly to an isolated glass room, separated from any type of social activity outside of family.

In the midst of her sickness, Hesselbrock never let the athletics department fall behind, committing to working late and coming in on the weekends to assure the stability of the department.

“Somehow, he never let the work in the athletic department fall through the cracks,” said Tommy Love, the business manager for the athletics department and a longtime friend of Hesselbrock. “I’ve had Jack on a pedestal for some time. I just wish I could handle a tough situation like that with the class with what he had to go through with Molly.”

Davis Babb, an associate athletics director and another friend of Hesselbrock, remembered Hesselbrock’s focus for Molly as well as his calming presence during a time that could be considered anything but calming.

“People would talk to him about how they felt sad about the situation, but his attitude was ‘Thanks, it’s a very tough situation, but we’re going to get through this,'” Babb said. “That was almost contagious to everyone else.”

With the cancer bouncing back and forth between being active and in remission, Molly remained optimistic and upbeat.

The Hesselbrocks knew a decision had to be made once the cancer had crept into her lungs around Valentine’s Day. She was attached to a respirator and with her laboring to breathe, the family knew it had to make the most painful of decisions: The Hesselbrocks were going to take Molly off life support.

“It was time to say it wasn’t about us,” Hesselbrock said. “It was about Molly.”

Molly died on Feb. 21, 2005. The service took place the Friday after she died – one day short of her 15th birthday.

The outpouring of emotion from the TCU community was overwhelming, including Chancellor Victor Boschini’s offer to have Molly’s funeral at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. It would prove to accommodate the 3,000 to 3,500 people in attendance for the service.

Coaches, players, administrators spanning Hesselbrock’s career would honor the Cleburne native in their own way, whether it was through food, gifts or in the case of the 2004 men’s basketball team, an emotional National Invitation Tournament win. After holding onto a postseason win against Western Michigan University, Hesselbrock entered the locker room after the game and was overwhelmed with emotion when he saw the players crying and hitting the “MH” patch on their jerseys.

Hesselbrock said he still keeps in contact with Molly’s friends, but that every time he hears of what her old friends are doing nowadays, it reminds of what he missed with Molly.

“You’re supposed to grow old and they’re supposed to go to college or graduate from high school and I think what occurred was all of the things that we would not experience ever,” Hesselbrock said. “You realize that it truly indeed stopped that day and she will forever be a freshman.”

As he sits in his office, Hesselbrock looks to be at peace talking about an event that brought so much sorrow a short while ago. He said he just wishes to have the same impact in his life that Molly made in her nearly 15 years.

“I’m not bitter,” Hesselbrock said of the tragedy. “Sometimes, I wonder why, but I don’t question.”

A picture of Molly remains on the table, untouched. It is a moment frozen in time, a moment he cannot regain. But he can remember, and that is what he does: remember.