National non-profit, dedicated to finding cure for Sarcoma cancer, visits O’Brien family home in Suwanee
By: Rachel Fasig
The legacy of Cooper O’Brien, one of Suwanee’s bravest young men, is powerful. He inspired our community and many others across the nation. When he was diagnosed with Clear Cell Sarcoma in May of 2013, Cooper made the decision to live his life to the fullest: to not let cancer deter him from experiencing the things he wanted to. And, for the final year of his life, that is exactly what he did!
Immediately following chemotherapy, the doctors told Cooper that he needed to stay out of the sun, so guess what he did…he headed straight to the beach with his family! “He was living his life! And that perspective was key for the people who got to meet him,” said Landon Cooper, Founder of Miles 2 Give (M2G), a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for Sarcoma cancer. Sarcoma is a cancer that takes place within the body’s connective tissues, such as bone, muscle, fat, blood vessels and tendons.
Traveling across the US in a 1994 Winnebago called ‘Life Elevated’ the M2G team raises much-needed funds and awareness for Sarcoma, by running races or walking in honor of patients, and spending quality time with thousands of families affected by the disease. Inside ‘Life Elevated’ nearly every inch of wall and ceiling space is covered in colorful messages. There are at least 4,000 signatures from people they have met, including Sarcoma warriors, survivors, angels, their friends and family. “We wanted to create a canvas for everybody to leave their mark in the world,” Landon said. And, Cooper O’Brien’s signature, complete with a telltale smiley face, was the very first to kickoff the 2014 Miles2Give Tour.
The basis of Miles2Give is straightforward, yet profound. “I haven’t met one family tree where at least one branch wasn’t affected by cancer. Miles 2 Give is the simplistic approach of nurturing relationships with love, and the process of eliminating that which should not exist: cancer,” Landon explains on the Miles 2 Give website. Miles 2 Give has dedicated countless hours meeting with top doctors and scientists in Sarcoma research and treatment to develop a complete and transparent understanding of what is being done and where funds are needed most.
The Huntsman Cancer Institute has pledged to match Miles 2 Give’s fundraising dollars up to $120,000 for “The 2014 Miles 2 Give Sally P. McCrorie Sarcoma Research Grant” which is providing funds for a hand-selected group of “brilliant, hand-picked scientists at Huntsman,” said Landon. This group includes: Dr. Lor Randall, Dr. Stephen Lessnick, Dr. Jones and their highly respected Sarcoma research teams.
After learning of Cooper’s passing in July of 2014, the Miles 2 Give team knew that they had to place Suwanee on their 10,000 mile 2014 tour. And when they pulled into the O’Brien’s driveway on December 1st, 2014, they were awestruck by the sheer number of people there to embrace the O’Brien family, learn more about the organization, and join in fellowship over dinner. “Cooper’s community here is the perfect example of inspiration,” Mary said.
For Suwanee residents, Eric and Deborah Butcher, the experience hit home in an even bigger way. Eric Butcher has been battling a very rare form of soft-cell Sarcoma cancer called Hemangiopericytoma or HPC for eighteen long years. When he was diagnosed eighteen years ago, doctors were literally searching for treatment options online, right in front of him and still don’t have answers today. “It has been very disheartening and scary,” said Deborah. As Landon handed Eric a marker and asked if he would leave his signature as a Warrior, tears started flowing. For so long, Eric Butcher and his wife and kids have felt alone in this battle. But meeting Landon and Mary, learning about the fundraising efforts of Miles2Give, and seeing the outpour of support for the O’Briens, has shown them a sliver of light in an otherwise dim world of fighting Sarcoma. But, there is still a long way to go.
Although Sarcoma cancer incidence rates have increased over the past several years, sadly the overall awareness, funding or survival rates have not. The M2G Team is striving to change that and this is just the beginning. Our neighbor, Eric Butcher, our angel Cooper O’Brien, and Sarcoma cancer patients worldwide need Cooper’s Crew to continue to fight for them. For information on how to support M2G and Sarcoma fundraising efforts, please visit miles2give.org.