05/18/08 — A dream for her little boy ... a cure

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A dream for her little boy ... a cure

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 18, 2008 2:02 AM

Renee Bryan remembers when her son, Cooper, told her he was OK.

"He said, 'Mommy, I'm not sick anymore. I can go home now,'" she said. "That just about ripped the heart out of my chest."

The truth was, Cooper couldn't go home.

He was being treated at Duke University by "grown-ups" with titles he couldn't yet pronounce -- "oncologist," "radiologist."

"I mean, how do you tell a 4-year-old he has a tumor in his brain?" Renee said. "You really can't."

Her husband, Jonathan, had a plan.

He told his son he was like Superman -- that he needed to get his "super medicine in the Superman port."

In reality, the port was a hole in Cooper's chest. His "super medicine" part of the chemotherapy.


A crowd shuffles across a Wayne Community College green.

Thousands make their way from campsite to campsite, booth to booth, to the track and around it.

Likely another record turnout at the Wayne County Relay for Life main event.

Cooper's face is everywhere.

You can hardly turn around without seeing someone wearing a T-shirt with his likeness printed on the center.

Only he doesn't appear young, skinny or small in the picture.

And he is flying.

Red cape, blue tights, muscles, smile -- all there.

The only thing missing was a Superman "S" on his chest.

In its place was a "C".

"I'm a SUPER COOPER fan," the shirts read.


Renee remembers time spent with her son before Aug. 31, 2007 -- the first time she held him in her arms, the day she took him home from the hospital.

He grew up a bit shy, but was always affectionate with her.

"He was a mommy's boy," Renee said.

Physically, he appeared perfectly healthy.

He was playful, happy, always smiling.

But then he started getting headaches.

And they kept coming -- for months.

Still, Renee had no idea that the day she took Cooper in for his four-year checkup would mark the beginning of a series of events that would end in a cancer diagnosis.

The Bryans' family doctor found nothing wrong, but referred Cooper to Greenville for additional testing.

An MRI was scheduled more for "peace of mind" than the possibility something might actually be wrong.

"Before he got the MRI, the woman, she felt like everything was OK," Renee said.

She was wrong.

Radiologists found a tumor inside Cooper's brain stem, one Renee would later learn was inoperable.

"I was by myself that day. We thought it was just a routine checkup," she said. "So when the woman came in and told me what had been found, I looked up at her, kind of threw my hands up, and said, 'Could you tell me that again?'"


It has been nearly a year since those doctors found that tumor.

And in the months since, Cooper has made "tremendous progress."

He gets his "super medicine" more often now -- each time leaving his mother in awe of the strength and courage of her 5-year-old little boy.

He still doesn't quite know what he is up against -- or why all those people are wearing his picture, or what a luminaria is, or why he was named an honorary chairman for Relay.

"The doctors told him he has a boo-boo in his brain," Renee said. "Even if he doesn't really know, I think he kind of gets it."

At least the part about him being like Superman.

And that his "super medicine" is working on his "boo-boo."

The doctors think the tumor might even disappear one day.

But there is something Renee knows will never fade.

You see, Cooper's battle with cancer has shown his mother something about life, love and the community that she took for granted a year ago.

"This community has just rallied behind us, behind him," she said, her eyes beginning to tear up. "I'm proud. I'm honored. I'm humbled. I just can't tell you what the support has meant. It's something you can't put into words."

Like how she felt that day at Duke Hospital when Cooper told her he was OK.

Like how she knows she will feel when he says those words again -- and it's true.