This has been a pretty good month. We have been to Hawaii and Calgary and best of all the Wings are winning. Earl's new name for his favorite team is "The Detroit Hot Wings" ha ha. We are so proud of how well his boys are doing.
Earl saw the oncologist this past week and this is the news. The nodule in his right lung that we have been watching has not grown significantly, which is good news, but there appears to be 2-4 new nodules..not such great news....so now we wait for another 3-4 months before we get another ct scan. The other problem is that one of his kidney's is dilated and they are doing some tests to figure out the cause. Other than that, Earl has his good days and his bad days and we continue to ask you to keep him in your prayers,
- that he would begin to feel better and stronger
- that the cancer would just stop growing
- that Earl would take responsibility for eating healthy and staying strong.
While we were in Detroit in February we met a young couple who were also from Winnipeg, and when they heard about Earls story and connection to Mike and the Red Wings thought it was a story worth telling. Below you will find 2 stories that were printed in the Winnipeg Sun on Sunday March 14 about Earl, Mike Babcock and their relationship.
“Earl, you own the Joe.”
Those words are uttered often when Winnipeg’s Earl Cook makes a pilgrimage to his hockey mecca, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
It’s the home of his beloved Red Wings, a team with which Cook, who is battling cancer and had his left leg amputated because of it, has basically become part of due to his friendship with head coach Mike Babcock.
“He’s become a good friend of the Detroit Red Wings,” Babcock said, “and he’s become a good friend of mine.”
Cook, 22, is given free reign when he shows up at the venerable Motor City arena. He sits on the bench during the morning skate and darts around the locker-room after games.
“He’s got an opinion on everything!” Babcock said. “He’s got an opinion on who should shoot in the shootouts, he’s got an opinion on who should play with who and what goalie. I remember the last time he was in, we were playing Ottawa. He had the scouting report on (Brian) Elliott.”
Debbie Hopkins, who has been Cook’s foster mom for the last six years, is thankful the Wings have let her son live out a dream.
“Earl is given that experience, and he believes that he makes a difference,” she said. “And I think that’s the way Mike wants it.”
Babcock is always telling Cook that he knows a lot about hockey and specifically the Wings.
“I can’t tell you everything,” Cook said, “because some of it’s secret.”
Cook analyses tape with Detroit video coach Keith McKittrick. Johan Franzen calls him the team’s fourth coach. He has dumped Gatorade down Darren Helm’s jersey three times during practice and knows the St. Andrews product will exact his revenge soon.
He writes motivational messages on the white board. He’s met entertainer Kid Rock and befriended his brother, Billy Ritchie, whose hip and leg were amputated when he was six.
Due to behavioral and learning disabilities, Cook sometimes says whatever he’s thinking.
“I speak my mind,” said Cook, who has given motivational speeches around Winnipeg. “They like that about me.”
He even went up to Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg last spring during the Stanley Cup playoffs and told him he was struggling.
It was OK, though, because “me and him are tight,” Cook said. “I got his e-mail.”
Cook and Debbie are travelling to Calgary for Detroit’s game on Monday night against the Flames. Cook will no doubt catch up with his pals.
“I want to study for them, but I don’t know (Miikka) Kiprusoff’s weak spot,” Cook said. “I don’t know how to score on him. He’s too good.”
Babcock isn’t going to be happy to hear that.
Cook’s strongest bond is with the coach, but he has made an impact on the players as well during his dozen or so trips to watch them play.
A signed picture from defenceman Andreas Lilja reads: “To my best bud. You are an inspiration to us all. All the best.”
Cook also has a Wings calendar, and each player featured wrote a personal message of hope.
Cook’s bedroom is plastered in red and white. Pictures, jerseys, sticks and coffee mugs, not to mention a Curtis Joseph goalie helmet, are all over the house.
His prosthetic leg, which includes a rear end since he doesn’t have a hip, is painted red with a Wings logo on it. His good buddy Zetterberg even autographed the thing — while Cook was wearing it!
Cook believes his relationship with Babcock and the Wings is helping him strive to beat cancer. He and Debbie have tried to make trips to Motown just before he goes in for surgery.
“It brings my spirits up,” he said. “My Red Wings are my friends, and they’re cheering me on. I gotta do it for them, and I made a promise to other cancer patients before they died that I’m going to do whatever it takes to survive.”
Babcock’s wife lost one of her closest friends to cancer during the Olympics. His mom died of the disease as well. He invites kids stricken with cancer to every Wings home game.
None of them, however, left an impression like Cook has.
“There’s a few of them over the years that I’ve got to know better than others, but no one as good as Earl,” Babcock said.
“He’s just a great guy. He’s a piece of work. There’s nothing else you can say about him. He’s just fantastic, and his heart is huge. Sometimes when you don’t win, sometimes when you don’t feel like things are going as good as they should be, all you gotta do is think about him.
“You think about the hand he’s been dealt and how he embraces it. He’s an inspiration. He’s a remarkable man, is all I can say. He’s a gift from God.
“Earl’s going to be one of the survivors, and he’s also going to be one of the people who inspires people to make a difference, and I think that’s so important.”
When the doctor found another “something” in his lungs at Christmas time, Earl Cook wasn’t sure if he was ready to continue his cancer battle.
So his foster mom, Debbie Hopkins, sent an e-mail to one of Cook’s closest friends to ask if he could light a fire under her 22-year-old son.
That friend, who two months later would guide the Canadian men’s hockey team to Olympic gold in Vancouver, did just that.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock told Cook that it was overtime in Game 7. It was time to find another gear. He threw in a few salty words to make sure he got his point across.
“He gave Earl a locker-room talk,” Debbie said with a laugh. “And he doesn’t mince his words with Earl, either, which is really cool. As a mother, I don’t prefer that people use those kind of words with my children, but he treats him just like a player. And it’s awesome. It’s one of those situations where it’s OK.”
It’s OK because Cook, who has gone through more in his 22 years than anyone could ever imagine, responds to Babcock. One of the world’s most famous hockey coaches and the foster kid from Winnipeg have formed a deep friendship that just might be keeping the latter alive.
“If it weren’t for Mike, I wouldn’t want to keep fighting,” Cook said matter-of-factly. “Mike has given me the desire to live. There’s lots of times during each day I say I want to be dead right now, I don’t feel good.
“I get depressed sometimes, but Mike gets me out of it.”
Cook had it rough from the beginning. And when we say the beginning, we mean the beginning.
“Earl was born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder,” Debbie said. “He was actually born drunk. And, actually, he was born in a toilet. His mother didn’t even know she had him. His older sister found him and saved his life.”
Cook was abused and diagnosed with failure to thrive. Doctors didn’t think he would make it past the age of two. He was placed in foster care as an infant, but the numerous behavioural and learning disabilities that were caused by his early experiences, like Asperger syndrome, are with him for life.
The fact he was diagnosed with cancer when he was 19 falls under the category of ‘Life’s not fair.’ The kid’s a fighter, though, and it’s his remarkable attitude that draws people to him.
“He’s a guy with an infectious personality,” Babcock said last week from Detroit. “The life he’s had … he’s a guy who’s found a way to make lemonade out of lemons, I guess you could say.
“I love when I jump in the car and it’s him on the phone. I turn it on, and I listen to him. It gives me inspiration.”
Cook and Babcock first made contact in July 2008, after Cook’s left hip and leg were amputated in Toronto. Cook was first diagnosed in 2007 with osteogenic sarcoma in his leg, the same kind of cancer Terry Fox had.
Cook had gotten to know part-time CTV Winnipeg sports anchor Dan Palsson, who in turn asked his friend, TSN’s Darren Dreger, if he could pay Cook a visit. Dreger stopped by and asked Cook who his favourite hockey coach was. Cook said Babcock. Fifteen minutes later the two were chatting on the phone.
“I was telling Mike how to run the lines, who to play with who and stuff and he listened to me,” Cook said. “And sure enough we went to the finals (in 2009).”
After the amputation, Cook had chemotherapy for the cancer that had spread to his lungs, but he wasn’t responding well to the treatment and the doctors weren’t hopeful.
So Debbie decided to get in touch with Babcock to see if Cook could come down for a game or two. He said yes. A friendship was born. Cook and Debbie have attended about a dozen Wings games over the last two seasons. When he’s unable to be there in person, Cook has Babcock’s direct line. They spoke three times on Thursday.
“If Earl ever calls, without a doubt he returns the call,” Debbie said. “Unless he calls at a completely inappropriate time, he will return the call within an hour.”
Debbie believes her son’s relationship with the Olympic- and Stanley Cup-winning coach is why Cook is still fighting off the disease today.
“It’s been everything,” she said. “It’s given him that motivation, the desire, the need to survive.”