What's Up, South Texas: 4-year-old cancer survivor brings hope to his community

JOURDANTON, Texas – A 2-year-old diagnosed with cancer can have a major impact on a family, but in Isaac Coolidge’s case, cancer has given his community hope.

The now 4-year-old's family, friends and community supporters call him Mighty Ike after he defeated cancer that developed in his pelvic area.

“I just remember he wasn’t feeling that well, but I didn’t think it was anything serious,” said Stephanie Brown, Ike’s mom. “Then he threw up and I just thought it was the stomach bug, and the next day his back started hurting.”

Brown said several days had passed with 2-year-old Ike feeling well one day and horrible the next.

“One day, I remember he didn’t urinate for 24 hours, so I thought, yes, something is seriously wrong,” Brown said. “I took him to urgent care and they found a mass.”

She said that was when she was advised to go to the emergency room immediately.

“They started doing all of these tests and blood work,” Brown said. "We were probably in the ER for about eight hours.”

Brown said they later learned that Ike had a yolk sack tumor, or a germ cell tumor, that forms from germ cells that make reproductive cells.

“They removed some of it but not all of it, so we had to do chemotherapy,” Brown said.

Ike went through five days straight of chemotherapy, extra days to get him stabilized in the hospital, and then he waited three more weeks to do it all over again.

“I was at peace,” Brown said. “Every since we were in the ER, I was at peace. I did have feelings of 'Is this really happening to me? Children’s cancer, really? What are the odds?' But I knew everyone has something they are walking through and this was our journey.”

Brown said being in the hospital was a tough battle for Ike.

“In the beginning, of course, he was losing his hair,” Brown said. “But he was grumpy and always throwing up and couldn’t eat. We had to have a catheter for him for over a month. Sometimes, we had to hold him down to do things that would help feel better, but it was tough. He was not happy.”

Eventually, Ike had to use a feeding tube to keep food and nutrients in his system.

“You know, chemo just kills your immune system,” Brown said. “There were times where he had to be in isolation, meaning he couldn’t leave his room. So it would be seven to 10 days in a small room, and we couldn’t leave.”

Ike was diagnosed in February 2017. After four rounds of rigorous treatment, he was determined to be cancer free in June 2017.

Brown said throughout the entire process, the small community of Jourdanton and their church family at Cowboy Fellowship was right by their side.

“We had people from all over praying,” Brown said. “We were never without. We had food and gifts and money and people wanting to come clean my house.”

Debbie Wright, a church member, coordinated a major event called the St. Baldrick’s Brave the Shave fundraiser, where people would willingly shave their heads to raise money for cancer research. In the two years they have done it, the community has raised over $50,000.

“I have had several family members die to cancer,” Wright said. “I lost my husband to cancer. I can’t imagine somebody the age of Ike suffering like he did. He touched me in such a deep way.”

Wright said Ike walked into her life at the right time, after her husband had just passed away. She said she started running the day care at church and in walked little Ike.

“He walked into the day care and lifted up his shirt and said, 'It’s gone.' I said, 'Thank you, God,'” she said.

Ike now suffers from hearing loss and has speech issues because of the chemotherapy treatment, but for the most part, he is healthy, his mother said.

“He is absolutely wonderful,” Brown said.

“He could barely get out of bed and now he is running a marathon,” Wright said. “I was blessed the day he came into my life.”

Ike's story made the church community really hopeful as they were just dealing with a little boy who had lost his life to cancer. His name was Hunter Matthew Galloway. He died at the age of 1 in 2015.

Hunter was diagnosed at six weeks with stage 3 embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma of the head and neck. He received 52 weeks of chemo and died from respiratory failure.

Hunter’s sister, Hannah Galloway, who was 4 when her baby brother passed away, said she participated in the Brave the Shave events for Ike in honor of her brother.

“I just want the sick kids to be healthy again so that they won’t have to be sick anymore,” Hannah said.

Because Ike defeated cancer, the community is not only stronger, but they are hopeful that everyone has a chance at fighting cancer.

“If shaving my head helps one kid, whether it is chemo or going through the stage of treatment, I will do it until my hair stops growing,” Wright said. “If those kids can go through all that and can still smile, I can smile, and I will continue to do so until there is a cure for cancer.”

“God has used our situation for good,” Brown said. “If you are going through something difficult, and if you look back and say, 'Hey, that little boy did this. And if he can do this, then whatever I am going through, I can get through it as well.' We can get through this. Everybody is going to go through bad things in life. You just got to stay strong and don’t give up.”

As a reward for his defeat, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is sending Ike and his family off to Disney World next Spring.

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