Make-A-Wish Foundation along with Lowcountry Parent readers make a local childs wish come true
It was October 2011 when Melanie Hardy of James Island received a call from her son’s daycare teacher. She was concerned because Cooper just wasn’t acting like himself. Later that day, the 3-year-old began to complain of a stomach ache and developed a fever.
Get to Know Cooper
Cooper loves baseball; his favorite team is the Yankees and his parents hope to take him to a game one day.
He also is a “Rocky” fanatic, and when he’s feeling good does his workouts to the movie’s theme and runs around the house training with Sylvester Stallone.
“He’s grown up so much watching TV and movies because there’s nothing else to do,” says his mom, Melanie Hardy. “You can’t go out when counts are down.”
He eats all the time since his steroids and medicines make him hungry. He doesn’t have a sweet tooth anymore, but loves anything salty.
He loves to be read to and one of his favorite places to go is the Folly Beach Library because it isn’t too crowded. “No matter where we are or what we’re doing, he always wants us to read to him or tell him a made-up story,” she says.
Favorite color: Orange
Favorite book: Anything by Dr. Seuss
Favorite game: Monopoly
Favorite music: Country
Favorite sports teams: Yankees and Citadel Bulldogs
Favorite candy: Tootsie Rolls
Also cool: “Star Wars” and playing with dinosaurs
There was no cause for alarm; toddlers get little viruses all the time.
Cooper felt miserable all night, so the next day Melanie’s instincts whispered to her to make a doctor’s appointment just in case it was something more serious.
“I explain it as divine intervention,” she says. “Because the next day I took my second-born child with a low-grade fever and a stomach ache to the doctor, which is something you just don’t do, right?”
His pediatrician took blood and ordered X-rays. When the test results came back later that day, the doctor called to say it could be one of three things. One of those things was cancer. She immediately took him to the hospital.
He was diagnosed the following day, just two weeks after his third birthday, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood.
Melanie says when she looks back, she sees he had the symptoms.
“He had bruises — yes his legs hurt, but with a 3-year-old you just chalk it up as he’s a boy jumping off the couch or he’s being lazy saying his legs hurt and just wants me to carry him everywhere.”
We can do this together
Cooper’s older brother, Dixon, 6, is handling his little brother’s illness like a superhero, the family says.
Sometimes normal sibling jealousy sets in, but for the most part, he protects his brother and does everything in his power to help his family get through these tough times, Melanie says.
When Cooper loses his hair, Dixon wants to cut his off. When Cooper gets painful shots in his legs and Melanie has trouble and has to leave the room, Dixon is the one who stays there holding his little brother’s hand.
If Cooper has to take a medicine he hates to take, Dixon consoles him by saying, “Hold my hand. You can do this. We can do this together. Let me help you.”
His mom thinks this experience has made her son more compassionate. He, in turn, has shown her a thing or two.
“My kids teach me stuff every day through this,” she says.
Dixon attends Blessed Sacrament School and Melanie says she can’t thank them enough for helping her son to feel normal, when his entire world is spinning.
“They kept him on track and helped keep things normal for him. I wouldn’t want Dixon to be anywhere else other than there. They went above and beyond.”
What is ALL?
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a malignant blood disorder in which the body, specifically the bone marrow or blood cell factory in the body, produces an uncontrolled population of immature blood cells, says Dr. Shayla Bergmann, pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the Medical University of South Carolina and Cooper’s oncologist.
“These cells are from a specific blood cell line called the white blood cells, specifically the lymphocytes. And for whatever reason, a switch is turned on and the cells divide very fast and uncontrolled. These cells crowd out other normal cell lines or populations and infiltrate body organs (such as the spleen, lymph nodes, etc.),” she says.
ALL is the most common cancer diagnosed in children and represents 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15, she says. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 6,050 people will be diagnosed with ALL this year.
“The incidence of ALL among children ages 2 to 3 years is approximately fourfold greater than that for infants and is nearly tenfold greater than that for adolescents ages 16 to 21 years,” Bergmann says.
The good news
The five-year survival rate for ALL has increased from 60 percent to 89 percent for children younger than 15 years and from 28 percent to 50 percent for children ages 15 to 19 years between 1975 and 2002, Bergmann says. More than 95 percent of children with ALL go into remission and 75 percent to 90 percent survive free of leukemia recurrence at least five years from diagnosis.
Doctors at MUSC were able to get Cooper into remission just 29 days after his diagnosis, but it wasn’t an easy road.
“It was crazy, and they blasted him with all kinds of medicines,” she says.
The treatment and protocol for children with ALL is three years.
“Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close follow-up because cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment,” Bergmann says.
Cooper still undergoes treatment, is on daily medications and is in and out of the clinic every other week, but should be off treatment in December 2013.
“He’s a tough little boy and has been through much more than others his age,” she says.