Archive for Thursday, October 10, 2002

Tonganoxie woman rallies volunteers to help others

October 10, 2002

The two days in isolation gave her time to think.

"It was just me and four walls," said Jerri Cooper, of her August radiation treatment for thyroid cancer. While in the hospital, Cooper, who will turn 62 this month, said she decided it was time to do what she could to help others who are suffering from serious diseases.

Cooper decided to organize a group she calls "People Helping People." Those who want to be involved can volunteer to help anyone who is seriously ill. This might include car rides to doctor visits, bringing in meals, helping with household tasks, or maybe just stopping in to visit, she said.

She recalled the assistance from friends during her recent bout with cancer, and also seven years ago when she was diagnosed with renal, or kidney cancer.

"The help that I received meant so much to me," she said.

Although she only decided in August to take action, the idea had percolated for a while.

"I had felt for a long time the last two years that I wanted to get into something that would help people," Cooper said.

Cooper said people who are interested in helping, as well as those who could use a little help or who know of someone who might want assistance, can call her at home, (913) 369-3979.

Cooper, who for three years organized the Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society fundraiser, said she now wants to focus her efforts on more of a local level. And, this isn't just to help cancer patients, she said.

"I want to help anyone who has a desperate need," she said. "And one thing for sure, none of us knows when we're going to be there."

So far, Cooper's idea has been well received.

"The few people that I've talked to about it up to now everyone has wanted to be a part of it and be a volunteer," Cooper said.

Cooper, who works at a Lenexa hardware store, recently met Robin Colgrove, Tonganoxie resident shopping in the store. The women had never met before.

"We got to visiting and I shared my idea about this with her and she's already told me she'd like to be involved, and that she'd like to get her kids involved," Cooper said.

Colgrove, who has lived in Tonganoxie 13 years, said since meeting Cooper, she has thought about her often.

"It was almost fate as if it was supposed to be," she said.

Colgrove's daughter had recently been assisting a neighbor who had had surgery, sweeping her porch and putting out fresh water for the pets.

So Colgrove thought her children, aged 11, 9 and 7, would be willing to work with her to help Cooper carry out her idea.

"They're quite capable and they're really enthusiastic because they love to help people," Colgrove said. "Sometimes you just don't realize there's a need out there."

So far, Cooper has lined up six or seven people who are interested in helping. And her husband, Bob, who worked 17 years in the ministry before becoming disabled by rheumatoid arthritis, has volunteered to work with her. Bob said he would be available to provide non-denominational spiritual support to patients who request it, she said.

And, Cooper said she would like to establish more support groups to provide educational services and encouragement to those who may need it the most.

"I believe when there's life there's hope," Cooper said. "I believe a positive attitude is extremely important and I know that support from others is really important."

She said her two rounds with cancer have illustrated the importance of making the most of every day.

"I just feel like the rest of the life that I've been given is kind of a gift after the battles I've been through," Cooper said. "And I want to use it to make a difference."

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