Six years ago, when Missy Cook found a lump on her 8-week-old baby Cooper’s neck, she and her husband, Rod, took him to the pediatrician, who referred them to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. His diagnosis was infantile fibrosarcoma, a cancer so rare that the chances of a child developing it are literally one in a million.
Last year, she was dealt another blow, when her husband passed away unexpectedly.
Today, meet Missy Cook, who is honest about her journey in dealing with a child with cancer and her determination to carry on with her husband Rod’s passion to help and encourage other families facing the unwelcome disease. We are proud to have her as our first FACES of Williamson County.
Tell us about the days following Cooper’s diagnosis.
Cooper’s older brothers were often at home while we shuttled back and forth between hospital and home for treatment. Cooper endured surgeries and extended hospital stays, with the medical staff dubbing him “Cooper the trooper.”
At a time when most parents would have been exhausted and overwhelmed dealing with a child who has a serious illness, what made you decide to start the Cooper Trooper Foundation?
In the midst of dealing with Cooper’s diagnosis, we realized quickly how childhood cancer impacts the entire family unit, not just the sick child. As parents of other children, you are torn between the focus that you must have on your sick child, while still trying to make sure your other children are loved, cared for and recognized for the courage they too must have.
We looked at the difficulties we faced in supporting our well children at a time when their brother needed our full attention as an opportunity to create something to help other parents in this situation. There are many resources out there for the sick child, as there should be. Yet there is almost nothing to support the siblings who really are “heroes in the shadows.” These siblings can have so many emotions, from worry and fear for their brother or sister to jealousy, even, because all the attention has shifted to their sick sibling. They need support, too, and we wanted to find a way to do that, through encouragement and resources, so that they do not feel left out or alone in the process.
What resources does the foundation provide?
The foundation offers “Courage and Caring Kits” for siblings with age-appropriate reading material as well as personalized “Caring and Courageous Cancer Sib” certificates, information and resources for parents, and other tools to help siblings of cancer patients cope with the diagnosis. The foundation also funds pediatric cancer research through an endowed fund at Monroe Carrell Jr.Children’s Hospital.
How is Cooper now?
Cooper is a thriving and healthy 6-year-old, who is officially cancer-free for five years now. He will continue to be seen once a year by a special group of oncologists at the Survivorship Clinic at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, but he will no longer have to see a regular oncologist and get MRI scans every six months unless there is a concern for such.
How old were your other children when Cooper was diagnosed? How has that shaped them?
Carson was 5 years old and Colby was 2 1/2 years old at the time of Cooper’s diagnosis. We saw an impact on both of them as we went through everything with Cooper. Research shows that siblings, though often overlooked unintentionally, bear the greatest unseen burden of stress in the family when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, Cooper’s brothers were supportive, but they did display fear and concern for their brother, often asking if he was going to die. They were also seeking attention from and wanted more time with Mom and Dad, since we were at the hospital a lot. Overall, I would say that they have a greater awareness than a lot of children of how bad things can happen in an instant. Their perspective on what is really important in life has built character in them at a young age.
You suddenly lost your husband last year to a heart attack. How did you manage to put one foot in front of the other and continue with the foundation’s biggest fundraiser, the pumpkin patch?
Losing Rod suddenly was devastating beyond words. It came out of nowhere, but I knew that he would want us to continue with the great work that he and I began, to help these families. So I just did it. I put one foot in front of the other and drew on my hope and faith in God. That is the only thing that allowed me to keep going. I also have an amazing network of friends and family who stood beside me and cared for me and the boys during that time, and they continue to support us in so many ways still. Rod would want us to continue our mission, and he always believed that God allowed us to go through what we did with Cooper so that we could be a strong presence in helping others who are going through that storm. I do it to continue that fight and honor him.
What would you tell other women who are experiencing those valley-of-the-shadow moments in their lives?
Take time to really search within yourself about your beliefs. My personal relationship with Christ was always important, but it was during the really difficult and seemingly hopeless times that He was more real to me than ever, and gave me the strength to keep going. I would also say that it is important to let others help you. This was hard for me to do, but I have realized that sometimes I just have to let go of trying to be “superwoman” and let others lift me up. I have learned that people really do take joy in helping others when they are in a dark place, and not letting them do so steals them of the joy they receive in giving.
What is your dream for the Cooper Trooper Foundation? How does it impact the lives of families in our community?
My hope and dream for the Cooper Trooper Foundation is that we can offer support to more and more siblings, who are often overlooked by others, so that they know just how special they are. I also hope we can support parents in caring for all of their children when their world is suddenly turned upside down by childhood cancer, by offering this resource to their well children. I also pray that through our foundation and many grassroots organizations like ours, we can raise enough awareness and funding to support childhood cancer research, so that the number one disease killer of America’s children no longer exists.
Okay, a few questions that are decidedly lighter in tone. Do you even carve a pumpkin at your house?
Yes. We actually carve three pumpkins. One for each of my boys. We even roast the pumpkin seeds!
Finish this sentence: As soon as we sell the last pumpkin and wrap up the Pumpkin Patch for the year I …
Take a deep breath, say a prayer to thank God for a successful patch, then quickly rush home to go trick-or-treating with my neighbors!
What are you reading right now?
Aside from my Bible, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, when I have a moment to read.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I have enjoyed writing on my blog, Cooper and the Cooks, over the last year. I wouldn’t say it is a hidden talent, but it is freeing and therapeutic for me to write about my journey through some difficult times.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Dark chocolate pomegranates.
Your favorite restaurant in Williamson County?
Garcia’s. I love Mexican food!
What three things (aside from faith, family and friends) can you not live without?
- Jesus Calling devotional
- Sonic Diet Vanilla Coke
- Bath and Body Works candles
To support the Cooper Trooper Foundation, head to the pumpkin patch, where 100 percent of the proceeds from all purchases benefit the foundation.
Images of Missy and her children by Abigail Bobo Photography