JOPLIN, Mo. —
As children approached the front porch, Cooper Vocelka used his foot to press one of a couple of buttons on the floor. The buttons activated either a man getting electrocuted or a spider that jumped up suddenly. His friends hid in the bushes and scared trick-or-treaters as they approached.
The electronics and scares were part of a Halloween celebration assembled by a friend’s father -- one who really gets into Halloween, Vocelka said.
He had a good night that night, because it was one of his good days.
Cooper, 17, appreciates the good days when they happen. He has a brain tumor, and surgeons have done the maximum amount of treatment and surgery they can do, said his parents, Ron and Sherry Vocelka, of Carl Junction.
Despite the grim reality of a terminal diagnosis, he has plans. He will attend college at Crowder College through the A+ Schools Program and eventually enter into youth ministry.
Over the next few weeks, however, people will see him playing guitar.
Cooper will play around town, wherever he can find a seat, and leave his case open. Any tips he collects will be donated to a fundraising effort to buy Christmas gifts for patients in the oncology ward at Children’s Mercy Hospital, the same place where he received his treatments.
“I just want to buy some toys and take them up there for Christmas,” Cooper said. “I’d like to deliver them, and get some of the kids together. Maybe we can sing some Christmas songs.”
Cooper’s tumor is an anaplastic ependymoma. Though it is the third most common type of brain tumor, it is relatively rare, according to the Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation. About 200 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
This is Cooper’s second fight with a brain tumor. His first one was spotted when he was 13, and was successfully treated through a regimen of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
The treatment is difficult, according to the foundation: A neurosurgeon physically removes as much of the tumor as possible, while working to cause no damage to the rest of the brain. Damage can result in permanent neurological problems. Radiation therapy is used to target the remaining cells that couldn’t be removed.
Cooper’s second battle started in September 2011, after a new tumor was discovered. He underwent the same procedure of surgery, chemo and radiation that month.
And again in April of this year, when the tumor was found to be growing again. And again in July.
Last month, Cooper’s family learned that the tumor’s growth wasn’t stopping. Doctors felt that surgery could no longer be performed effectively, saying that the tumor could not be cured, only slowed.
That doesn’t bother Cooper, who keeps a strong faith and thinks things will be just fine. He’s beaten a brain tumor before, after all.
“Sometimes it can get kind of hard,” he said. “But sometimes lately, I’ve been having some positive vibes, that things are going to work out somehow.”