In a race to fight cancer, a little boy and his family have inspired a community to join them.
On Aug. 19, 2009, 2-year-old Cooper Herman was diagnosed with an ependymoma, a form of brain cancer. Since being diagnosed, Cooper has been in a race for his life. Four years later, Cooper’s race is one that his family – and his entire community – is still running with him.
Cooper is now 6 years old and he and his family continue to push forward in fighting the disease. At the same time, they are giving back to help other families who are in a similar race alongside them. The Hermans started Super Cooper’s Little Red Wagon Foundation as a way to create a home away from home for children who are receiving cancer treatments and their families.
“By empowering families with support, hope and a welcoming community while they are away from home, we can provide strength in their fight against cancer,” say Elise and Justin Herman, Cooper’s parents and the foundation’s founders.
While the Hermans have had the good fortune of a strong support network and two nationally recognized health-care centers within 15 miles of their home, they know many other families lack these advantages. Too many families are forced to routinely drive their sick child more than five hours a day to receive chemo and radiation. Or they are faced with spending thousands of dollars on hotel rooms lacking essentials such as a washer and dryer, kitchen and separate sleeping area while they care for a child who is receiving these life- or-death treatments. This all adds up to a very difficult recovery for a child fighting for his or her life.
“Our wish is that families who are or will go through the process of caring for a child with a tumor, not go through any more hardship than they have to during this very difficult time,” Elise Herman says.
Great strides have already been made in supporting the foundation’s mission by raising more than $150,000 and purchasing two apartments in Durham. In 2013 the foundation is also planning to open an additional Super ReCOOPeration apartment in Chapel Hill. The goal is to raise $750,000 by 2018 in order to build a standalone Super ReCOOPeration house that will be able to house multiple families in apartment-style units.
For the Freelands, whose 4-year old son had stage 4 brain and spinal cancer, finding a place to stay that provides the basic living essentials to care for a sick child can make all the difference.
“To not have to worry about a space for your own belongings when you’re at the hospital, to be able to call a place home while you’re going through something like this, is the biggest need of all,” Freeland said. “It is a tremendous relief to have a place to turn to for the support that the Super Cooper Foundation provides.”
The signature fundraising event for the foundation is the Super Cooper’s Rockin’ Run and Family Fun. 2013 will mark the event’s fourth year and the response continues to grow, topping 750 participants in 2012 while raising more than $60,000. The day’s activities are designed to be a family experience, beginning with a kids’ bike ride, a 5k run and a family-fun relay. Throughout the day, attendees are entertained by live music, giant inflatables, a surf simulator, a live auction, great food and much more.
Eric Montross, former UNC All-American and NBA basketball player, has supported the foundation since it was started and proudly serves as emcee for the event each year.
“I am inspired by Justin and Elise and their selfless dedication to give back to others in need,” Montross says. “They are a particular inspiration to our community now, as they are dedicated to this effort at a time when they are in a race for the life of their own child. The weekend’s activities continue to foster awareness toward the needs of families battling childhood cancer; it would be impossible not to be drawn to a family with such enthusiasm and vigor for helping other families in need.”
In addition to the signature event, the foundation hosts other activities throughout the year to support families in need. Last year, more than 100 gift cards were collected and given out to families with children in the pediatric cancer unit at Duke. The foundation is also working to provide broader support throughout the year, including providing parking vouchers and Visa gift cards to families so that they can cover such costs as groceries and daily living expenses.
All of the work of the volunteers and event participants continues to inspire the foundation in its quest to raise $75,000 this year in support of the 2018 goal of building a Super ReCOOPeration house.
The Super Cooper Rockin’ Run and Family Fun will take place Oct.19 at 3 p.m. Go to www.supercooperswagon.org for more information, to register for the Super Cooper Rockin’ Run or to make a donation.