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Brain tumor doesn't stop Decatur student Dom Cooks from his dream

Decatur High School senior Dom Cooks celebrates after scoring a touchdown during Friday
Decatur High School senior Dom Cooks celebrates after scoring a touchdown during Friday's homecoming football game against Auburn Mountainview. Cooks was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in April 2012.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

Dominique Cooks is the epitome of perseverance.

The 18-year-old Decatur High School student was a stud, 220-pound defensive lineman for the Gators' football team and the definition of a "power guard" on the basketball court. To illustrate how talented he was on the gridiron, Decatur head coach Leon Hatch made the rare call to have Cooks play on the line as a ninth-grader during the 2010 football season and start all year as a sophomore.

The future was more than bright for Cooks.

"Football was going to be the sport for me," Cooks said. "I did my thing out there. I like the aggressiveness of the sport. I always worked hard."

But life hit Cooks like a bone-crushing tackle during the spring of 2012. That's when doctors discovered a malignant, inoperable brain tumor. The diagnosis has obviously changed Cooks' perspective on life, as well as sports.

Since being diagnosed, Cooks has battled the brain tumor for the last year and a half with the same perseverance that he used in sports. The left side of his body is now pretty much useless and he spends a lot of his time in a wheelchair.

"At the beginning of the school year, doctors told me that I had three to six months to live," Cooks said. "But nobody is going to tell me stuff like that. Before I got this tumor, I was going to the NBA or the NFL. That's still what I'm going to do. Can't nobody tell me any different. I'm definitely going to beat this. I'm kinda self-motivated like that."

"You only hear about stuff like this," said Decatur C-team basketball coach and Decatur grad Collin Sawyer. "But it's happening to Dom. He is just such a neat kid. He is really amazing. I don't know how many kids would be this excited for life."

While playing pickup basketball at Decatur during the spring of his sophomore year, Cooks was struggling and didn't have his normal "lift" on his jump shot.

"I didn't know what was going on and I even got my shot blocked by some scrub," Cooks said with a smile. "Coach Sawyer was just watching me play and he saw that I couldn't catch the ball with my left hand. It was bending in all the time. So one day before practice, Sawyer told me to tie my shoe and I couldn't. He then said that I couldn't play for him anymore until I got a note from my doctor. Coach Sawyer probably saved me."

Following the basketball incident, Cooks went to the doctor and they thought that the lack of feeling in the left side of his body was caused by a pinched nerve. Earlier in the year, Cooks had been in a sledding accident and doctors thought that might have been when he pinched a nerve.

But the numb feeling never went away and, eventually, his left leg would start to drag behind his body while he was walking. That's when doctors ordered an MRI and the tumor on his brain was discovered.

"After I took the MRI, I was the only person in the room who didn't know what a tumor was," Cooks said. "The doctor said, 'Dom, you have a brain tumor.'"

The malignant tumor is sitting on Cooks' brain and doctors cannot surgically remove it because of its location. Therefore, chemotherapy and radiation is the only option for killing and shrinking the tumor.

Last year, the chemotherapy and radiation seemed to have killed the tumor in Cooks' brain.

But the good news didn't last long. The tumor grew back and led to the three-to-six-month diagnosis earlier this fall. The National Cancer Institute estimates there were about 23,000 new cases of brain cancer diagnosed in 2012.

"I remember that he missed a couple days during our offseason workouts," Hatch said. "I went to his teacher's room and started talking and she told me that he went home and wasn't feeling good. That is when they found out. It was devastating."

Despite that devastating news, Cooks hasn't let anything in his life hold him back from accomplishing everything he wants to accomplish.

"The first thing I asked the doctor was when I was going to be able to play again," Cooks said. "The doctor told me that I might never be able to ride a bike again and I was not going to get to play basketball or football."

But that news is not entirely true. Cooks had his "dream" of getting back on the football field fulfilled Friday night on the turf at Federal Way Memorial Stadium during the Gators' homecoming game against the Auburn Mountainview Lions.

"I called him into my office and I asked him, 'If you had a wish, what would it be?'" second-year Decatur Principal David Brower said. "He told me that he wanted to play basketball and football again."

Cooks, who lives near Brigadoon Elementary with his mother, Tasha Wade, twin sister, Diamond Cooks, aunt Charmayne Harper and grandmother, Faye Wade, has been involved with the 2013 edition of the Decatur football team from the start. He represented the Gators during the pre-game coin toss during their first game of the season, and has been a constant presence at practices and games since.

"I asked him if he would like to dress and he told me that he wanted to do something else than the coin toss," Hatch said.

That is when the chain of events that culminated at the homecoming football game were set in motion. Brower and Hatch contacted Auburn Mountainview High School's principal, Terri Herren, and the Lions' football coach, Jared Gervis, about doing something special for Cooks during the game.

"I told him that he was going to play at the homecoming game," Brower said. "He said, 'Don't tease me, Brower.' He then told me that he wanted to get hit. He said, 'My right side is still solid.'"

Cooks didn't take a hit, but did cross the goal line Friday night while every fan inside Federal Way Memorial Stadium cheered. The Gators' offense lined up with Cooks split out on the right side of the line in front of the Auburn Mountainview defense. Decatur quarterback Isaiah Hatch then hit junior receiver Isaiah Diggs with a pass, Diggs then pitched the ball to Cooks on a hook-and-ladder play. Cooks did the rest, completing a few juke moves before scoring his "dream" touchdown.

After he crossed the goal line, Cooks completed his special "touchdown dance," which included finger-rolling the football out of his right hand, before both teams, coaches, cheerleaders and fans surrounded him, yelling his nickname, "Cookie, Cookie, Cookie."

"Everyone was so hyped," Cooks said. "After I crossed the line, I wanted to goof with my boys. It was awesome. People are going to remember that for a long time. It was awesome. I just wanted to get the crowd going."

Despite being a lineman during his high school football career, crossing the end zone was not a foreign thing for Cooks.

During his days in pee-wee football and at Saghalie Middle School, Cooks always played a skill position. These are the players who get all of the glory and press. Skill position players always have their hands on the ball and score the touchdowns. In short, they are the center of attention.

And that was something that Cooks relished. But that all changed when he started his freshman season at Decatur. Cooks had become too big and too strong to play as a running back/wide receiver and was moved into the trenches by Hatch and the other Decatur coaches.

"We brought him up on varsity midway through the season, which is a very big deal for a freshman," Hatch said. "He had outgrown the skill position, but still had some of the same skills. He was quick off the ball and a quick kid. He fit right in to what we were trying to do defensively.

"The team absolutely loves Dom. He is a big part of this campus and is an outstanding kid. Even before he was diagnosed, kids loved him the same. It was just awful to have such a physical and healthy kid. And then to be diagnosed all of a sudden? It's terrible."

Cooks' infectious attitude has become a staple throughout the halls during the first two and a half months of the 2013 school year. He makes the morning announcements every day, which include some type of inspirational message. He was also appointed as an Associated Student Body (ASB) officer by the Decatur students.

"I just try to say some of my words for the day," Cooks said. "The kids love that. I'm just taking little quotes from my life experiences and passing them on. Honestly, if it wasn't for Decatur, I don't think I would be here today. I just love Decatur. I love the kids at Decatur. It's one, big happy family. A lot of kids in school look forward to the weekends. But I wish we had school on the weekends because I love being here so much."

Brower has become very close to Cooks since the diagnosis. Brower calls him an amazing ambassador for Decatur, which is a pretty obvious fact after talking to Cooks.

"There are things that aren't within my power to do when it comes to Dom and his cancer," Brower said. "But when he says that he wants to play football again, that's something that's within our power. How small of a thing is that? We wanted to make his wish come true."

"He is just always lifting everybody up," Brower said. "He is just an inspirational kid. He has taught me to embrace every day and treat everyone with kindness."

Cooks has plans to go into motivational speaking after he beats cancer. He has already given talks at Saghalie Middle School and some elementary schools around Federal Way.

"I'm just trying to make the most of my life," Cooks said. "I want to give back to kids and let them know that nothing is impossible.

"There are two things that I'm very thankful for — Decatur High School and my tumor," Cooks said. "I feel loved at Decatur and it makes me happy, and the tumor has taught me that tomorrow is not a promise and you have to embrace every day."

Cooks' story continues the trend of bad news emanating from Decatur. The school has been hit with a streak of bad news over the past three years. In May, then-senior Pavlo Myronets was killed in a car crash on May 25 on Highway 167. Former Gator swim coach Rob Hill died in a plane crash in February 2012

In September 2011, junior Robert Harris was at a family barbecue when he drowned in Lake Tapps after trying to retrieve a football that was floating in the water.

In June 2010, Decatur seniors Derek King and Nicholas Hodgins were killed when they were struck by a drunken driver on Interstate 5, just three days before their graduation.

Former Decatur grad Emmanuel Franco, 21, was killed Dec. 29, 2010, after a drunken driver crashed into him at the intersection of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South.

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