Cooper, now almost six, from Lincoln, was diagnosed in February of 2015 with a brain tumor called bilateral optic glioma/diffuse fibrillary astrocytoma, that started on his optic nerves of both eyes and travelled through much of his brain. He was only 11 months old when diagnosed.
This blonde-haired, curly-headed boy has had active chemo treatment for four of the last five years. He has also had two biopsy surgeries and many brain shunt surgeries because of hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation in the brain) caused by the tumors.
This brain tumor has resulted in complete blindness for Coop, along with developmental delay, and gait and balance issues. In addition, his speech is affected and he deals with fine and gross motor deficits.
The stress from cancer and treatments affects everyone and everything in the family, including finances, jobs, and balancing appointments. Trying to find normalcy for both Cooper and his brother, Owen, is something that is very important to Cooper’s parents, Al and Tiffany. This is something that is often done on very little sleep, in survival mode, and often feeling like they are treading water and trying to keep afloat.
Separation of family is felt by all cancer families. For the Peterson family, it means that Owen, who is only one and a half years older than Cooper, must often be left with relatives when travel is required. The feeling of neglect is often felt because Owen feels like Cooper is more important, which is far from the truth. It’s hard for young children to understand, and it’s common for siblings of ill children to feel forgotten.
Because of his young age at diagnosis, all Cooper has ever known is doctor appointments, examination tables, and needle sticks. He expresses his dislike of chemo and often thinks it’s not fair that he misses school when his brother still gets to go. Having a compromised immune system and appointments causes Cooper to miss out on things he enjoys; things that kids his age SHOULD get to enjoy.
Pediatric cancer is an emotional roller coaster ride, including feelings of fear, sadness, anger, depression, anxiety, happiness, and defeat all mixed in with occasional wins. And there is always worry about the future. Through this entire cancer fight, the Peterson family has learned resiliency and strength. Cooper has been through so much, but he keeps on keeping on, staying happy and bringing so much joy to others. Even at his young age, he has that others what strength really is.
The Petersons’ faith has been tested in many ways, but Cooper’s mom says they have been given multiple reasons for becoming stronger in their faith, as they look to a higher power and have faith in Him. It provides them with a safe place to lay their burdens down. They’ve learned to take life one day at a time and realize they can’t control everything.
Cooper continues to light up every room he enters, bringing sunshine on even the gloomiest of days, with his sense of humor and quick wit. He is known for walking into the clinic saying “party, party, party!" He also loves music and singing. Spending time with Owen is important to Cooper as is swinging in his backyard and he has mastered the simple art of loving all people as they are.
Cooper’s parents want to teach both of their kids that even though bad things can happen in life, those bad things don’t define a person. Tiffany says they’ve been blessed by a great many people throughout this journey. The support of Brave the Shave and its volunteers and supporters have had a profound impact on their lives too. She says that “Brave the Shave is a safety net for us that has helped to relieve some of the fears and stress when things get tough.”