What are the odds of a seemingly healthy eight-week-old child receiving a diagnosis of a rare cancer, Infantile Fibrosarcoma?

One in a million.

And what are the odds of that malicious cancer being located in the specific area of the head and neck?

One in five million.

Lesser people might well go into the fetal position.  And stay awhile.  Not Missy and Rod Cook, parents of little Cooper as well as two other young boys, age two and five at the time.  The family and Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt took on the fight with a vengeance to rid sweet little Cooper of the malicious malignancy in his head and neck.

The diagnosis and the ensuing battle began in 2008.

The Franklin family was in and out of the Children’s hospital regularly for tests, scans and treatment.  They had two lengthy stays for two very difficult and serious surgeries. A tumor had to be removed to save Cooper’s life.

“Throughout the war we waged, Cooper was such a trooper,” Missy said. “We began referring to all our family, friends and of course the hospital doctors and staff helping our baby as Cooper’s Troopers.

“Rod and I talked a lot about not only how excruciatingly difficult this was for us and for Cooper, but for our other two young sons who were, out of necessity, drug along on the journey.  We worried that they were feeling left out because our efforts, of course, had to focus on saving Cooper,” she said.

The couple consulted with hospital staff and Child Life Specialists who confirmed that siblings of critically ill children do in fact have their own issues.

“We felt it was time to stop asking why me, why us, and to turn to God to help us help others in similar situations,” Missy said.

They came up with an idea.

“We would create Courage Kits for siblings,” said Missy.  “The hospital staff agreed it was a good idea.  We created knapsacks for siblings that included a t-shirt, stuffed animal and a book about dealing with illness of a sibling.  The books are age specific in that one is for younger children, another for teens.  It helps them open up about their own feelings and give opportunity for dialogue with their families about their own feelings.”

The couple went to work producing the Courage Kits.  They give them to families who request them and to hospitals.  Since their inception, they have donated 1,000 of them.

Also, during Cooper’s ordeal, they learned that only four cents of every dollar from government funding is given specifically to childhood cancer research.  It was and remains a mystery to the family how that can possibly be.

Missy and Rod were told about a company that does pumpkin patch fundraisers with non-profits and churches; they decided to try it and “Pumpkins with a Purpose” was born.  The pumpkin patch is located at the corner of Cool Springs Boulevard and Mallory Lane.  

After the pumpkins are paid for, 100% of the profit from the pumpkin patch, goes back to the Cooper Trooper Foundation to support their mission of funding childhood cancer research through a fund set up at Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital and support the ongoing mission of supporting the well siblings through their Courage Kit Program. 

The Pumpkin patch opens October 6 and runs through October 31 and depends 100% on volunteers from the community to operate. 

So, while Cooper was ill, then healing, the pumpkin fundraiser was going full speed.  It is the primary fundraiser for the Cooper Trooper Foundation established by Missy and Rod.

The joyous news is that Cooper and his troopers defied the odds and defeated the cancer.  He has crossed the five-year mark which denotes he is in full remission. He is a healthy, happy kid.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Cooper’s difficult chapter ended but another one began. In 2013, Rod passed away suddenly from a cardiac arrest at the age of 42.

 “It was, and is, devastating,” says Missy.  “We grieved and coped as best we could.  God doesn’t make mistakes; I knew and know we have to go on.  We can’t let Cooper’s cancer or Rod’s death define us.  We can’t just retreat in a hole and feel sorry for ourselves.  And no matter how hard our story is, others have ones even more difficult. I depend on my faith, my relationship with God and the love of family, friends and even strangers to be able to go on. We are well loved by so many.”

It’s what Rod would have wanted.

Missy’s sons are now 10, 12 and 15.  They are in three different schools.  They are all active.  And they all help out with pumpkins come October.

“I’m an incredibly busy single Mom,” she says.  “I try to model making the most of hard circumstances for my boys, I’m a fulltime mother and I run Cooper Trooper Foundation.  We’re trying to make a difference in the world.”

Her mantra is “We have tried to make the best of our story.  We have tried to rise above.  We have tried to glorify God in our circumstances.  We are trying.  One day at a time.”

As part of that trying, Cooper Trooper Foundation has to date donated $250,000 to Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt dedicated solely to pediatric cancer research.

$250,000.

So, before you pick up a pumpkin or two for your front porch from Publix or Kroger, pause and reverse course  to Cool Springs to buy Cooper Trooper Foundation’s bright orange orbs.  

You’ll be making a difference in your own right.

 

Vicki Stout serves as SEM’s Travel and Food Editor. She is also a freelance writer and marketing and public relations consultant.

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