The Joplin Globe
Before he died, Cooper Vocelka was studying the philosophy of Dr. Seuss and told his father, Ron, about the Sneetches — the star-bellied and plain-bellied creatures who pay all their money to look like the other.
But Cooper, the 17-year-old who died Sunday after a four-year battle with two brain tumors, reminds us of another story by the beloved children’s author: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Among our favorite passages in that book are the “Except whens” — especially the first instance, which covers bang-ups and hang-ups, how they lead to a prickle-ly perch, being left in a Lurch and falling into a Slump.
“And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.
“Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”
But it was for Cooper.
After surgery was unable to successfully remove a second brain tumor, he received a terminal diagnosis in October 2012. Instead of sitting back and awaiting his end, he looked outside of himself and made a difference for countless patients.
He started a fundraiser to buy presents for fellow patients at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Any tips he earned playing guitar would help buy the gifts.
When he couldn’t play guitar while recovering from chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he shopped. When he couldn’t shop, others shopped for him.
He was recently chosen as an American Red Cross Everyday Hero and noted by Voices Against Brain Cancer for his positive outlook and forward-thinking energy.
Though “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” is usually given to high school graduates, Cooper already personified that book’s adventurous spirit. To paraphrase Seuss: He was one of the most brainy and footsy people we ever met.
Add “heartsy” to our list of Seussisms. When we asked him about his diagnosis in November, he considered himself lucky. “As bad as what I’m going through is, I know of kids who have the same thing, and it’s much more serious,” he said. “They are going through worse than what I’m going through.”
The Joplin High School graduate and National Honor Society member kept living during his death sentence. He was going places.
He escaped all that waiting and staying. He found the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping he rode high, ready for anything under the sky.
Ready, because he truly was that kind of guy.