Cook Family Inspired/Inspires at Race for the Cure

Posted Jun 17, 2013

Standing on the main stage at the St. Louis edition of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Saturday, Rams tight end and honorary chair Jared Cook held his mother Yulinda’s hand as the view took hold of his chest and sucked all of the air out.

For the Cook family, the journey to stand in front of breast cancer survivors and fighters had been far more than a simple trip to downtown St. Louis for the annual event. For them, the day represented much more than a chance to give back to the community.

Saturday’s event, featuring more than 40,000 cancer survivors, their friends and family and everyone who came out in support of the Komen mission to find a cure for breast cancer, was another in a line of blessed affirmations.

None of those moments caught Cook quite like the one where he stood on the stage and addressed the survivors. That’s because his mother Yulinda is a survivor. By extension, Cook and the rest of his family are, too.

“It’s just all the survivors,” an emotional Cook said. “Knowing what my mom went through and the tribulations she was facing. For them to beat something like that, I just think it’s amazing to see everybody come together and celebrate together to honor those who have fought, those who have lost and those who have won all at once. I think it’s amazing.”

For Cook to have the opportunity to share the moment with his mother only made the day more special. Cook’s parents still make their home in Suwanee, Georgia, but traveled to St. Louis to participate in the day’s events.

Yulinda Cook, who overcame the disease and was declared cancer free in 2010, provided a shining example of strength and encouragement for all in attendance, taking a turn addressing the crowd soon after her son.

“It’s emotional first because I have gone through what most of these ladies have already gone through,” Yulinda Cook said. “Also, I want to be an encouragement for all those who have not been able to sink their heels in or got to the point where they feel good about themselves and are still uncomfortable going out in public without any hair or eyebrows or any of those things. I want to be that encouragement for them to know they can do it and they can make the best of who they are now and know that this is not the norm. They will get back to their norm which will be better than it was before.”

Dede Hoffman, the board chair of the St. Louis affiliate of the Komen Foundation, said she was excited for yet another year of Rams’ involvement in the cause, particularly with multiple representatives in attendance.

“In the beginning, the Rams were handing out roses and now I think they are an integral part of the whole day,” Hoffman said. “It’s fabulous the sponsorship and support the Rams give us. We love it.”

Quarterback Sam Bradford, who served as Komen’s honorary chair last year, returned in the same role this year and delivered a short speech from the stage.  He also joined Cook in signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans throughout the morning.

Like the Cooks, Bradford also had that breathless feeling from surveying the crowd coming together for one important cause. This year, though, having a teammate who has gone through the battle made it a bit more personal for the Rams quarterback.

“Fortunately for me, I haven’t had anyone in my life that’s been directly affected by breast cancer yet,” Bradford said. “When you have someone, one of your teammates like Jared Cook whose mother is a survivor and went through the struggles of going through that fight on a daily basis, I think it makes it even more important for us to use our platform to come out here and raise awareness for such a great cause.”

Yulinda Cook’s story isn’t that different from the many survivors in attendance on Saturday but it’s no less inspirational.

In April of 2008, Yulinda began feeling ill. Initially, she was told that she had the common flu but she insisted that something else was wrong. When she discovered a knot on her breast, she returned to the doctors and they began the usual battery of tests.

This time, the flu was no longer a possible answer, it was breast cancer. She was quickly scheduled for surgery but decided not to tell Jared about the pending operation.

Jared Cook was heading toward what would be his final year at South Carolina, a year that would be important for his NFL future and Yulinda didn’t want him to be distracted by her issues. She finally called her youngest son with the news as she was on her way to the surgery in May of 2008.

“Jared is my youngest child and as a mother you know your children,” Yulinda Cook said. “I know what’s best for him. That was a critical time for him. He did not need that extra emotional stress on him so that’s why I withheld it. Unfortunately it did get to everybody and one of my oldest son’s friends called him and said ‘I’m praying for your mother.’ He said ‘What are you talking about?’ He was going through a lot, just going through college and playing football. He didn’t need that extra emotional weight.”

Meanwhile, up in Columbia, South Carolina, Jared Cook was stunned by the news and a bit upset that he’d been kept in the dark. That thought passed as quickly as it came though and Cook soon realized the best thing to do was honor his mother’s wishes and continue to do whatever he could to make her proud. 

“It was hard because the first thing I wanted to do was drive home and be with my mom,” Jared Cook said. “At the same time, you have to focus on what she wants. She wanted me to be in school; she wanted me to finish up football and finish up strong. So of course I had to respect her wishes and take care of business.”

Yulinda Cook went through another surgery in July of that year and then set about the long road of chemotherapy and radiation that accompanies the disease. Meanwhile, Jared Cook was working hard to establish himself as one of the top tight ends in the nation.

Each week, Yulinda Cook and the family dutifully showed up to Jared’s games. In many ways, those trips to watch him play served as their own sort of therapy.

“It helped tremendously,” Yulinda Cook said. “It kept my mind off a lot of what I was going through because I tried to pour myself into what he was doing and also my other kids. So I poured myself into other things instead of thinking about what I was going through.”

Buoyed by her son’s accomplishments as well as a special treatment known as Herceptin, which can only work with a small percentage of individuals in the world, Yulinda fought through the pain.

By 2010, Jared Cook had completed his first year in the NFL and Yulinda Cook was completely cancer free.

“Just to know she didn’t have to go through that anymore – because you know for a woman it physically changes everything, your hair, your eyebrows, everything – to know she didn’t have to fight anymore, it was just awesome,” Jared Cook said.

Fast forward to Saturday’s stirring event and the Cooks couldn’t help but give thanks for all that has happened since that fateful day in April of 2008. Having fought a fight that many others in downtown St. Louis had also experienced, Yulinda Cook’s megawatt smile said it all as she looked out at the crowd and shared her story, a story unique and too familiar all at the same time.

“It is so, so inspiring,” Yulinda Cook said. “It’s emotional at the same time. Even if you have not been through what these ladies have been through and don’t know anyone, it takes your breath away to know that everyone is coming together for a cause such as breast cancer to try to eradicate it and stomp it out.

“I am just so grateful for how God has blessed us, blessed me individually and us as a family. I don’t take it for granted, not for one day do I take it for granted. I hope to continue to do that. I want to be that catalyst to put forth an encouraging message to anyone no matter if it’s breast cancer or ovarian cancer or whatever the situation may be, I just want to be the person for people to know you can be a survivor. You don’t have to be consumed by what some doctor says that you have.”