Saunders: A 7-year-old gets angry, and pennies flow to fight cancer

bsaunders@newsobserver.comFebruary 9, 2014 

Most of the time, Cooper Wiese, 7, has two “emotions,” his mother, Jill Wiese, said.

“Happy and sleeping.”

For weeks, though, the first-grader was being surly, depressed and angry, and nothing Jill and her husband, Rob, did had any effect. “He wasn’t being himself,” she said.

The Wieses of Durham met with his teacher a few times to try to figure out what was going on with their usually ebullient child.

“There are only so many times you can take away TV and iPads and Wii,” Wiese said of the pointless punishments they implemented. “How much can you take away? We didn’t know what was happening to him.”

They eventually discovered at whom – or, more accurately, at what – he was angry: cancer.

Cooper’s 21-year-old cousin, Patrick Wiese, had recently been diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, and that devastating news angered and depressed Cooper’s mom and dad.

The kid was merely inhaling the exhaust of their despair, they eventually surmised.

Despair certainly seemed in order. Anger, too.

Beyond anger

You’ve got a terrific nephew and cousin whose promising baseball career has been abruptly derailed and who, just like – snap! – that is undergoing painful chemotherapy. Patrick Wiese, a student at LeMoyne College in upstate New York, still has several weeks of treatment remaining.

Yep, anger and despair seem appropriate.

Unlike many of us, though, Cooper Wiese didn’t just get angry. He asked his mother how he could cure cancer. “I said, ‘You go to school and you study,’ ” she recalled telling him. “You do math and science and you become a doctor and you become a scientist ...’

“He said, ‘Oh. But that means more homework, right?’ 

She then proposed Plan B, which was to raise money for research and to help people afflicted with cancer. Cooper initially proposed selling cookies, lemonade or hot chocolate at his school, Immaculata Catholic, then suggested setting up a baseball game between the Durham Bulls and pupils at Immaculata whose lives have been touched by cancer.

Yo, Wool E. You reading this?

Pennies for cancer

Cooper decided to collect money. In a telephone interview, I asked what inspired him to undertake this project.

“My mom was cleaning out the car,” he said, “and she said, ‘Hey Cooper, what do you want to do with these pennies?,’ and I said ‘Give them to cancer.’ 

Jill, who can still get choked up when recalling the moment, said, “I thought when I handed them to him that he was going to save them up to buy a new Wii game or go to Disney.”

When I spoke with them last week, his mother said he had raised $1,300, most of it from fellow pupils at Immaculata. She said 75 percent of the contributions were in – you guessed it – pennies.

Wow, that’s a lot of copper, Cooper. (Now, let’s just wait and see how many literalists are going to inform us that pennies are composed mostly of zinc.)

The money, she said, will go to the Patrick Wiese Foundation, which Patrick and a couple of his baseball teammates put together. “They’ve decided it’ll have a three-pronged approach – patient and family assistance, for research and ... helping cancer patients continue with their education,” she said.

Patrick Wiese is a Yankees fan, but the Red Sox invited him to spray paint home plate and the pitcher’s mound – so, that’s how they get them so clean – before the second game of the World Series last October.

Any patients and families that benefit from Patrick’s fund can thank him and his two friends and the various athletic teams at LeMoyne that have helped.

Mainly, though, they should thank a 7-year-old Durham boy who got angry at cancer and convinced his classmates to dig into their piggy banks, allowances and birthday gifts.

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