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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fundraiser for Cooper Bradshaw

Family and friends of Cooper Bradshaw are hosting a spaghetti dinner on Dec. 19 to raise funds in Cooper’s memory.

Cooper was born Aug. 16, 2007 and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called neurocutaneous melanosis. He died on March 29, 2009 at 19 months old.

His parents, Sandy and Brent Bradshaw formed the Cooper Bradshaw Foundation in his memory and are raising funds to buy gifts for patients at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. They’re also putting together parent bags that include items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, hand sanitizer and other useful items for spending time away from home at the hospital.

The dinner will be hosted at the American Legion Post 133 in Millbrook. A poker run begins at 10:30 a.m. from the post and the spaghetti dinner begins at 4 p.m. The cost is $8 per plate, dine in or carry out.

Donations can also be made to Cooper Bradshaw Foundation c/o American Legion Post 133, P.O. Box 264, Millbrook, AL 36054 or at any First Community Bank of Central Alabama location.

Here's the story I wrote about the Bradshaws in January:

Two words are written on a piece of paper taped to Sandy Bradshaw's computer monitor: Neurocutaneous melanosis.

It's the cancer her 16-month-old son Cooper is living with.

When he was born Aug. 16, 2007, at slightly more than 9 pounds, he appeared completely healthy except for several large moles.

"They brought him out to me and I said, 'What's on him?'" Sandy's husband, Brent, said. "We didn't like it."

And they didn't want to take any chances, so they took Cooper to a specialist in Birmingham.

A few months later, after an MRI, doctors found a spinal tumor.

And when he was almost 6 months old, Cooper spent seven hours in surgery at the Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Although he ended up with 38 stitches down his back, doctors said the tumor was a benign mass.

The Bradshaws had planned to do another MRI six months later. But before that, Sandy noticed something wasn't right.

In August 2008, Cooper became lethargic. He had been crawling, "but he stopped doing the things he'd been doing," Sandy said.

She packed a bag and was ready to take Cooper to the emergency room. Initially her husband wanted to wait until Monday, believing that Cooper would be better off seeing his regular doctor than an ER doctor on a Friday night.

But something happened to change his mind.

"He fell over and didn't push himself back up," he said.

The Bradshaws learned that Cooper had spinal fluid on his brain, and a few days later Cooper had another surgery to have a shunt put in.

"The shunt diverts the fluid out of there," said Dr. Alyssa Reddy, Cooper's doctor at Children's Hospital. "But it doesn't treat the underlying problem."

A week later, Cooper celebrated his first birthday. About that time, doctors identified his condition as neurocutaneous melanosis.

The couple wanted to learn all they could about the disease. As soon as they got home, they did a Google search and started reading the 12,200 Web sites they found.

The condition is characterized by abnormal cells that attach to the lining of the brain and can affect the nervous system. If the cells grow too much, they can shut down the nervous system, he said.

Reddy said it's a rare disorder with no known cause. The condition often behaves like a cancer or a tumor and tends to grow and cause more problems that can be fatal to young children, Reddy said.

She's currently treating Cooper and another child with the condition, although there's no proven treatment to correct it.

"But we also know that if it's untreated, it gets worse," she said. In Cooper's case, the cells have been non-malignant so far, but he's started chemotherapy in hopes of preventing the spread of the abnormal cells.

"Even when they don't look malignant, they act aggressively," Reddy said.

The first round of treatment was in November and made Cooper sick. But the second round in December didn't bother him as much. He had his third round of chemo Tuesday. Later this month or in early February, Cooper will have another MRI.

If it shows his condition has stayed the same or improved, Reddy said they would likely give Cooper a dose of chemo every month for a year. If his condition has worsened, they'll re-evaluate his treatment, Sandy said.

For the most part, Cooper is functioning like most other children his age. He hasn't been walking much, but he scoots at rapid speeds, his parents joked. His 3-year-old sister, Kennedy, didn't start walking until she was about 14 months old.

While the Bradshaws said it is breaking their hearts seeing him have to battle the disease, they said the ordeal is bringing them closer.

"I used to have a place where I had a camper set up, and I'd go for two weeks at a time, but now I want to go to work and come home and be with them," Brent said.

And Cooper's close to big sister Kennedy.

"He loves her to the point of no return," Sandy said.

Sandy said she and her husband usually buy Christmas gifts for each other, but this year it was all about the kids.

"We absolutely have no idea," Sandy said, before her voice trailed off. Her husband finished her thought for her, "We have no idea what we'll be facing this year."

Saturday, the American Legion Post 133 in Millbrook is holding a spaghetti dinner to benefit Cooper.

"It seems like everybody wants to help," Brent said. "It's heartwarming to know that the community will pull together like that."

Sandy's father is a member at the post and someone had approached him about organizing an event to support Cooper and the Bradshaw family.

More and more people in the community are finding out about Cooper's condition and ask the couple about him when they're out, or call the house to check on him.

But it still surprises the Bradshaws that people know and care about their young son.

"At first we didn't tell a lot of people, we just were so shocked," Sandy said. "We weren't ready to face it. It hadn't sunk in. It wasn't reality yet."

They'll be home from the third round of chemotherapy late today to attend the American Legion benefit on Saturday.

Tim Smith, first vice commander of the Millbrook post, said many of the Legion members don't personally know the Bradshaw family, but "the Legion is about helping veterans and helping people in the community that need assistance."

Post 133 set up a Web site about Cooper for online donations and so far they've collected more than $1,500, Smith said.

And despite an uncertain future and looming challenges, the family is digging in.

"We've got to fight. We can't give up," Brent said.

Sandy came up with a new family motto too: It's 2009 -- Cooper's year to shine.

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I grew up in the military. Mom was an Air Force nurse for a few years, dad was a navigator on B-52s, among other things. One grandfather served in World War II, uncle is retired Navy, other grandfather and great-uncle served in Korea and a cousin is currently serving in the Marine Corps. Currently, I'm the military reporter for the Great Falls Tribune in Montana. Previously, 


As a military kids, we moved all over. As an adult, I've traveled all over and moved for work. But now, I'm putting down roots in Montana with my boyfriend. We just bought a house and are slowly but surely making it our home. We have more land that we know what to do with at the moment. Now we're getting a garden started, tearing down walls and having loads of fun at what we call the Homestead.

In a part life, I did PR for the guy who built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall, social media for the National Museum of Health and Medicine, before that, edited two military technology magazines for a publishing group in the DC area and before that, I was the military reporter (among other things) at the Montgomery Advertiser, covering Maxwell Air Force Base, the Alabama National Guard, veterans and anything else military related in the area. And in between all of that, I leave town, preferably the country, whenever possible. It all started when I spent a semester in New Zealand.

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