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Federal Way student with inoperable tumor receives outpouring of love during early graduation

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin greets Decatur seniors Dom Cooks (glasses) and his twin sister, Diamond (left) during a special graduation ceremony Thursday night. Dom Cooks has terminal brain cancer and received his diploma in front of a packed audience.  - Casey Olson/Federal Way Mirror
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin greets Decatur seniors Dom Cooks (glasses) and his twin sister, Diamond (left) during a special graduation ceremony Thursday night. Dom Cooks has terminal brain cancer and received his diploma in front of a packed audience.
— image credit: Casey Olson/Federal Way Mirror

There were dozens Kleenex boxes lining every row of the bleachers inside the Decatur High School gymnasium Thursday night.

The tissue was there because officials knew it would be needed. Decatur held a special early graduation ceremony for twin brother and sister, Dom and Diamond Cooks, in front of a packed audience.

Decatur organized the commencement ceremony after Dom Cooks was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in the spring of 2012. Cooks, who was given three to six months to live earlier in the fall, also recently went to the doctor and was told that the tumor has spread throughout his brain.

The cancer is sitting on Cooks’s 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 treatments seemed to have killed the tumor in his brain. But the good news didn’t last long. The tumor grew back and led to a dire diagnosis.

The National Cancer Institute estimates there were about 23,000 new cases of brain cancer diagnosed in 2012.

Thursday night had the feel of the normal high school graduation. Programs were distributed at the door, the Decatur orchestra played recognizable processional and the school’s chorus sang a pair of songs.

There was a long list of speakers, who spoke about the graduates, and the Federal Way school board accepted the graduation of the Cooks, who wore caps and gowns.

But there was really nothing “normal” about Thursday’s ceremony.

Despite the dire diagnosis, Cooks’s infectious attitude has become a staple throughout the halls during his time at Decatur. 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 and was named the Homecoming King in the fall.

“What stands out for me is that Dom treats everybody like they matter,” said Principal David Brower. “Whether it’s a kid sitting in the corner or the most popular kid in the school.”

“You have been the face of Decatur High School and represented the Gator family well,” said head football coach Leon Hatch.

Cooks played for Hatch as a freshman and sophomore on the defensive line. But everything changed during the spring of 2012 when doctors discovered the inoperable tumor. The diagnosis has obviously changed Cooks’s perspective on life, as well as sports. The left side of his body is now pretty much useless and he spends a lot of his time in a wheelchair.

But Cooks got the honor of getting back on the football field during the fall. After a lot of communication between Decatur and Auburn Mountainview, Cooks was able to score one last touchdown for the Gators.

On that night, Decatur’s 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, the son of the head coach, 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.”

The touchdown and graduation ceremony Thursday just underscored the impact and love that Cooks has had for Decatur High School.

The most buzz-worthy moment of the night came with the surprise appearance of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who entered the gym to a standing ovation. Baldwin presented both Dom and Diamond with No. 12 Seahawks’ jerseys and even helped Dom up the stairs to accept his Class of 2014 diploma.

“I feel like a rapper with this mic in my hand,” Cooks said after being handed his diploma and grabbing the microphone. “Thank you guys. Shout out to everybody.”

Baldwin talked about the first time he met Dom, who was a special guest of the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field during the regular season.

“My mom told me that I needed to get out of the locker room so I could meet somebody,” Baldwin said. “I was blessed with the opportunity to meet this wonderful man. And the first thing he said to me was, ‘Aww, you aren’t so big.’ I said, ‘Nice to meet you too.’ Then he told me that he could cover me and I was like, ‘Who is this little kid?’ He said, ‘I’m too saucy.’ That’s when I recognized what kind of character he is.”

Cooks’s character and bigger-than-life personality have also been recognized by the staff at Decatur, several of whom spoke Thursday night.

“The fact that you are ill is the least important thing to know about you,” said teacher Genie Storvick, who got emotional several times during her speech. “Your illness does not define you. I am more than grateful that you have been my student.”

Longtime teacher and coach Sean Smith, who is also a Decatur graduate, described the first time he met Cooks in August of 2010.

“I was going out to the football field and I saw this crowd around this one kid and I thought it was a senior or something,” Smith said. “There was this freshman kid dancing around and it was Cookie. That’s the thing about Dom, you love people, you love this school and have brought us all together. Dom is bigger than life.”

Decatur head football coach Leon Hatch also recognized Cooks’s sister.

“”I tip my hat to Diamond, who has expressed a sister’s love in his time of need,” he said.

Sure, there were those tear-jerking moments during the graduation, including Storvick’s emotional speech. But the theme of the night was laughter and celebration, which is just how Cooks likes it. Numerous speakers, all female, praised Cooks’s ability to flirt with the girls around Decatur, including senior class President Shawntel Bali.

“He is quite the lady’s man,” Bali said with a smile. “But we have all learned so much from Dom. Here he is battling this disease and the biggest battle I’ve had to fight is with this grading system. It made me realize that report cards don’t mean everything.”

“I’ve learned to not take anything for granted,” Baldwin said. “Don’t feel sorry for him, cause God’s got him. I’m honored and blessed to be a part of this.”

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Dom Cooks

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