There weren’t any days, however, when she gave up, lost faith in God or lacked the belief that she would beat breast cancer.
Mrs. Cook wanted to tell as few people as possible and delayed telling her youngest son Jared about her diagnosis because she wanted him to focus on his studies and football at the University of South Carolina.
Jared, who is now in his fourth season with the Titans, found out, though, after word spread through a blossoming prayer chain by friends of the family. He was puzzled when he received a call from a friend who asked how his mother’s surgery went, and learned what a “loving, caring, amazing woman” was confronting. Jared was initially upset that his mother didn’t tell him when she was first diagnosed, but that quickly turned to worry. She assured him that it was a manageable form of cancer.
“My mom was my heart,” Cook said. “My dad used to travel a lot when we were growing up. He was with BellSouth, so my mom, a lot of times, was the head of the household. She’s always been there for me.”
Mrs. Cook went through two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and Herceptin treatments. She lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes but never lost hope. She said the changes to her appearance that resulted from the treatments may have been harder on her children.
“She just went through so much change,” Cook said. “Chemo is such a tough treatment for a woman to go through, so it was tough, but just to see how strong she was going through it, it made me have so much more respect for her.”
Diagnosis to treatment to remission lasted about three years as Mrs. Cook kept going to work and alternated between traveling from Georgia to Jared’s games at South Carolina and his brother Jason’s games at Ole Miss.
Eventually, she won her contest.
“I was just happy to see that she reached a point to where she was, I guess you would say, free,” Cook said. “She was free of that burden of that cancer being on her and going through the chemo and stuff. I was just proud of her.
“It felt good to know that all she had been through, all the work she had done, always going to her doctor’s appointments because she could have easily given up or missed some treatments or been too tired to do it, but she was adamant about beating it and getting better,” he added.
The Titans are hosting breast cancer survivors, including Mrs. Cook and Donna Palmer, the wife of offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, at Thursday’s game against the Steelers at LP Field. The special guests are being hosted as part of the fourth-year “A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives” awareness initiative by the NFL, its clubs, the NFL Players Association and the American Cancer Society. Players from both teams will wear pink equipment that will later be auctioned as a fundraiser, fans attending the game will receive complimentary pink towels from Saint Thomas and Baptist Hospitals and FUZE, and Zeta Tau Alpha will distribute 23,000 pink ribbons to ladies entering the game.
“The pink stands for something greater than just winning,” Cook said. “It stands for the fight, for the struggle, for resiliency, so I think it’s awesome that the NFL is doing this for it, and I think it’s awesome that they allow us to wear it this whole month and to represent men and women, everybody that’s ever known somebody that’s been through it and fought through it.”
Chris Palmer said Tuesday that his wife’s diagnosis increased his understanding of the tough situations patients face.
“It’s tough for a guy that’s one of six boys and his whole career has been in a locker room (because) you really don’t appreciate what a woman goes through with breast cancer,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult year for her, both physically and emotionally. I don’t think there’s anyone that doesn’t have a friend or family member that hasn’t gone through this. Hopefully, someday, we’ll find a cure for it.”
Mrs. Cook is scheduled to raise the 12th Titan flag before the game. Cook said he and his mom were excited about her being the 12th Titan because the ceremony is symbolic for all survivors, patients and their family members.
“I figure it’s going to be an awesome opportunity because not only is she raising that flag for everything that she stands for, she’s raising the flag for everyone in her similar situation that has been through what she’s been through, and I think that’s awesome, just like when we had Pat Summitt,” Cook said. “I thought that was amazing to have Pat Summitt be the 12th Titan or anyone who’s been in the Armed Forces. Having them raise the 12th Titan flag is amazing because they’re not only representing themselves, they’re representing everybody in a similar situation, so I think it’s going to be awesome that my mom, a little lady from Leeds, Ala., gets to be able to do that.”
Cook said his mom is “Superwoman to me” as he stood next to her Tuesday before Titans practice. He said he was impressed by the way she fought through the challenges and kept a smile on her face.
Inspired by that, Cook has created his own opportunities to help raise money for cancer research. He holds a basketball tournament each year, and recently partnered with Chick-fil-A Brentwood to raise money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which will hold its Race for the Cure on Oct. 27 at Maryland Farms.
“It was an awesome experience for fans to come out and be a part of it,” Cook said. “It’s amazing how many lives that this disease actually touches.”
Cook and “Voice of the Titans” Mike Keith are not able to participate in the race but they each have fundraising teams that will Sleep in for the Cure.
Mrs. Cook said the Crucial Catch initiative is “awesome.” She emphasized the continued need to raise awareness on the importance of frequent self-examinations and annual screenings and an increase in education about the disease.
“There are a lot of things that people really don’t know about breast cancer, how invasive it can be and how tough it can be for an individual,” she said. “I just think it’s wonderful that they have embraced this battle to assist and help women and men who are going through this fight.”
It’s also important, Mrs. Cook said, for survivors to share their stories and be there for future patients.
“I was really blessed and I can stand here today and tell everyone it’s not an easy journey, but I was able to do it and I was able to persevere through it,” Mrs. Cook said. “I just want to tell anyone who’s going through what I’ve been through that you can make it. You just have to be persistent and know that you can beat it and just have confidence in yourself and you’ll be able to make it through it.”