Thompson House rallies with coworker

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BRATTLEBORO — Tommy Cook, from Georgetown Mass., had been sick for a couple of weeks. He wasn't getting better. He turned yellow, said his grandmother, Cathy Murphy of Brattleboro, before he went to the hospital.

On April 2, the lives of both Murphy and her grandson were changed forever, when the little boy was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a type of liver cancer found mostly in children up to the age of 3. It's rare; the disease is diagnosed in fewer than 1 in 1 million children.

The news was a shock to his family.

"Four-year-olds don't get liver cancer," Murphy said.

Murphy is a clinical coordinator at the Thompson House in Brattleboro. After Cook was diagnosed, Murphy wanted to spend as much time as possible with Tommy and his parents, Tim and Kate Cook, in Massachusetts.

Her co-workers and supervisors were understanding, she said. They told her to do whatever she needed.

"A lot of places wouldn't have been as generous," Murphy said.

One day, Murphy came into work wearing a Team Tommy shirt.

The shirts were a part of a family-wide effort to raise awareness about Cook's plight, and to raise funds for Cook to get a new liver.

The shirts cost $10 each, and all money went to the Boston Children's Hospital. The Thompson House staff rallied together and raised $475. On July 17, all the staff members wore their Team Tommy shirts. Cook sent the staff a video to thank them. "Love ya," he said in the video.

"I had a great boat load of support," Murphy said.

In Murphy's profession it's common to see people who are about to die. Murphy describes it as a blessing, to be the last person residents have the chance to see. But it didn't prepare her for her grandson's disease.

"It doesn't help," Murphy said. "It doesn't give you any clarity at all. I'm not a nurse in this situation. I'm his grandmother."

Everyone on the Thompson House staff seemed equally unprepared, though none of them had ever met Cook before. "They felt my pain," Murphy said. "They really did,".

Dane Rank, the administrator at Thompson House, said he couldn't comprehend it. "It was profoundly disturbing, I was just flabbergasted. Everyone here was," he said. Rank has a 4-year-old at home. Every night at dinner they prayed for Cook.

"And prayers work," Murphy said.

Cook got his liver and he's now in remission. "His personality is coming back," Murphy said.

Treatment was tough on Cook, and the effects of the drugs and chemotherapy were visible, Murphy said.

He'd say things like, "I want to be the old Tommy again," she said.

Cook is naturally a "rapscallion," Murphy said. "If you fart it's the funniest thing in the world," she said.

While he was sick, Cook spent most of his time sleeping. He got to meet the Wild Kratts, two TV show characters from PBS. Murphy said the hospital tries to brighten the environment by providing visits by therapy dogs, fairy princesses and superheroes.

In October, Cook's having a remission party. The entire Thompson House staff is invited. Cook also will be coming to Brattleboro soon, Murphy said. His great grandmother lives at the Thompson House. So he'll be stopping by to say hello to everyone.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


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