Editor's note: This is part of a series of articles designed to highlight local cancer survivors who are taking part in this Saturday's Randolph County Relay For Life.
On Aug. 8, 2000, Deni Cooper did not wake up from her night's sleep. In the previous four days, she had experienced headaches, but she expected them to pass along as most headaches do.
When she finally woke up, she immediately went to her doctor to find out what was wrong. He discovered a tumor behind her left eye, one the size of a fist.
She sought help from surgeons in Morgantown, who were able to remove a sizable portion of the tumor. It was not completely gone, however, because they were unable to get some parts of the cancer that were directly attached to her brain.
Her husband, Jeff Cooper, found himself in a similar situation approximately one year earlier. During a routine physical, his lab results showed excess protein in his urine. After ruling out some common possibilities, including kidney malfunctions, doctors found that dead cancer cells were the culprit of this protein buildup. There was cancer growing inside his bone marrow.
After undergoing chemotherapy for a year, Jeff Cooper has to seek more help in fighting off the cancer. At about the same time, his wife also needed a followup with a more experienced surgeon.
If you go
What: Randolph County Relay For Life
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Elkins High School track
They looked around at several hospitals, trying to pick the correct one for each of their specific needs. Finally, they landed at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
It was Jeff Cooper's sister who was able to guide them to Duke. She has been a stabilizing force in their lives, and they view her as part of the miracle that keeps them alive and healthy, to this day.
"I believe in miracles," said Deni Cooper, who lists faith as the factor that lead them through this entire journey.
At Duke, she went through 37 individual radiation treatments, which took place on five days each week for more than seven weeks. Jeff Cooper continued his chemotherapy there for several months as well.
They both were able to live in the hospital's apartments for two months, which was convenient, but it also took a big hit out of their savings.
They had no income and were sustained only by savings and by the continuing goodwill of the community. Family, friends and members of their local church helped to keep their lives in order, physically, mentally and financially.
"We never had to do without," Deni Cooper said.
The Coopers are now doing much better and both are in remission. Both are healthy.
"Everything in our lives is good," she said.
Their involvement in the Randolph County Relay For Life, a fundraising program held by the American Cancer Society, is personal. The connection between the event and their mutual battles with cancer is what drives them to participate.
This Saturday, the Randolph County Relay For Life is set for noon at the Elkins High School track. Information on how to participate or support the event is available at relayforlife.org/randolphwv.
One feature of the event is the survivors' walk.
"It's so special to me to be able to walk that," Deni Cooper said.
Today, more than ever before, the Coopers live each day as if it's their last. They fully appreciate the change in perspective that a cancer scare can provide, and it shows up in their effort to give 100 percent into making each day count.