Chris Cooley reflects on his mother Nancy’s journey through breast cancer and what he learned about the disease that has changed his family’s life.
Before his mother, Nancy, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2008, Chris Cooley didn’t know anything about the disease that would impact her, and subsequently his, life in the coming years.
“Initially, when you have someone diagnosed with breast cancer, you realize that everyone has had someone that’s close to them diagnosed with breast cancer,” Chris said. “It’s extremely common, which is extremely unfortunate. It’s scary.”
Nancy found out she had a three-inch, aggressive tumor inside her right breast, known medically as ductile carcinoma. She would eventually have a bilateral mastectomy after promptly meeting with doctors and determining a surgery plan, setting her up for the fastest track possible to be cancer-free.
After she began chemotherapy, Chris shaved his mother’s head once her locks started falling out, something he had never realized could be such a life-changing moment. His mother, he said, didn’t care about how she looked being sick, and carried a fighting spirit from the moment she was diagnosed.
“It was consistently, ‘I will beat cancer, I will win,’ and not just that, but, ‘I will not let it change my life,’” Chris said of his mom’s attitude. “She went to every football game, she went to every event that I had, to a fault, where she shouldn’t have been out doing things after having surgery. I was just completely wowed by what she handled and how she dealt with something that was that life changing and life threatening.”
Chris and his brother, Tanner, would visit the hospital and sit with Nancy while she went through chemo treatments. They also began “Cooleys for the Cure,” a fundraising event to raise awareness and money for the Virginia Hospital Center and “The IIIb’s,” a local organization that supports women going through cancer treatment.
“I went through four months of chemotherapy, surgeries – six now, and 28 radiation treatments over the past three years,” Nancy wrote in 2011. “Reconstruction has been ongoing to try to rebuild my broken body. I know that these treatments would not be available without the help of the money raised for research of this horrible disease.”
The events, and the groups of women who were battling cancer with Nancy, gave Chris a better understanding of the support network available to those in need. Nancy found it through doctors, friends and family and sometimes with people she had only just met who were experiencing the same disease.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do our event was in slightly recognizing, when you bring 50 women with breast cancer together, they have an opportunity to openly talk about their treatments, their cares, their concerns,” Chris said. “I think it’s nice to be able to get some of your worries and thoughts off of your chest with people that are going through the exact same thing as you.”
Nancy has been in remission since ending her cancer treatment, and Chris noted his mother’s change in diet – she’s become a vegetarian – as part of the many lifestyle changes she has committed to herself to stay healthy. When Chris strapped on pink as a player, and when he does it now as a radio personality and game analyst, he still has one thought.
“Every time I think of this, I just think of my mom is a badass,” Chris said. “She really, truly is. She was always there for us, she did everything she could do as single parent, put herself through school after she got divorced, always worked her guts out. To watch her deal with this emotionally and physically really showed me a lot about her. And that teaches you something about yourself when you see your parent do that.”
Chris has continued to support those impacted by breast cancer, raising awareness with the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation. As part of his artistic endeavors, the Foundation asked him to design the logo for this year’s pink merchandized team T-Shirt, and utilized the Redskins’ fight song “Hail to the Redskins” for its lyrical relevance.
“I loved the ‘fight’ and ‘victory,’” Chris said, “two terms that should be highlighted when it comes to this.”
Now, eight years removed from the fateful call his mother received, Chris has gained immense appreciation for his mother’s journey, and the ones many other women fighting the disease go through each year.
“There’s no picking or choosing or determining who gets cancer,” Chris said. “There’s a million ways to say that something causes it or something prevents it, but there’s not true vector that I necessarily know of or that we’re told. It’s just about how you handle the situations that you’re put in in life. Some of it’s scary and it’s extremely unfortunate. It’s really a test to life, and I was proud of my mom for the way she truly changed her life.”