Oklahoma State football: Cowboys' Cooper Bassett, first-grader Taylor Brandt a perfect match
JENNI CARLSON COMMENTARY — Oklahoma State defensive end Cooper Bassett has become somewhat of a hero for first grader Taylor Brandt. Brandt, a recovering cancer patient, and Bassett met at a Coaches vs. Cancer event in Stillwater a couple years back. Now, he is her Cooper and she is his Taylor.
Taylor Brandt opens the cover of the audio book and triggers the embedded recorder.
The sound of a deep, soothing voice fills the 6-year-old's bedroom.
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Merry Christmas, Taylor. It's your Cooper. I hope you like this, and any time you miss me, you can open this book up and it'll be like I'm right there.
Taylor giggles and smiles.
That's often her reaction when Oklahoma State defensive end Cooper Bassett is involved. To Cowboy fans, he is a fiery leader who will be counted on to beat Texas next weekend and other teams in the weekends that follow. To Taylor, he is a gentle giant who came into her life during a time of cancer and baldness and tutus, then stayed in her life long after she'd beat the disease.
He is the reason she papered her bedroom door and closet door with OSU pictures and newspaper clippings. He is the person she heists her mom's cell phone to text.
He is her Cooper.
And she is his Taylor.
The spunky little redhead who loves Tinkerbell and dance class has found a place in his heart. He visits her house in Yukon whenever he goes home to Tuttle. He attends family gatherings and birthday parties. He even wore a tiara and played in the bouncy castle at Taylor's last birthday.
“She loves that I play football,” Cooper said, “but if I didn't play from here on out, I think I would still be her Cooper. We love each other because of the people we are.”
The towering football player and the tiny first grader seem an unlikely pair, but their personalities are a perfect match.
Taylor Brandt was never sick.
Back in February 2010, she showed no signs of the cancer that was already attacking her body. She was healthy and happy, active and ornery. Her mom even joked that Taylor occasionally liked to test out her flying skills, jumping off couches and coffee tables.
It was one of those flights that led to some bruises, which led to some questions for the pediatrician. Blood work was ordered, and even though the bruises turned out to be nothing, the lab results showed that Taylor had low counts on her platelets, her white blood cells and her red blood cells.
More tests showed the same thing.
The pediatrician decided to do a bone marrow biopsy.
“What are you talking about?” Taylor's parents, Elicia and Phillip, asked. “Why are you doing this?”
Taylor was still on the table after the biopsy when doctors delivered the diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The cancer affects the development of white blood cells. Known as the most common childhood cancer, its cure rate is high, but because it progresses quickly, it has to be treated aggressively.
“There were some times that she was really, really sick,” Elicia said. “It was pretty scary. Her platelets would get really low. She would get really anemic.”
Taylor didn't know all the medical terms, but even though she was only 4 years old at the time, she remembers how she felt having treatment once a week for more than a year.
“It kind of wore me down,” she said with a simplicity that nearly breaks your heart.
The chemotherapy killed the cancer cells, but it also attacked her little body. She lost her appetite, her hair, even lost her spunk.
Being tired all the time was her least favorite thing about having cancer.
Her next least favorite?
Being called a boy because she didn't have any hair.
That's why she started wearing tutus. Her mom bought the poufy skirts in every color of the rainbow, and Taylor wore them so often that the nurses at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center started calling her “Tutu Taylor.”
She was wearing an orange tutu the day she met Cooper.
Cooper Bassett was never small.
Even when he was a born, he was big. He weighed over 10 pounds at birth, and as he grew, he was forever the biggest kid in his class.
His parents were always reminding him how much bigger he was than all the other kids.
“Be gentle,” Vicki and John would tell him. “Be gentle.”
Cooper learned the lesson well.
He always had a gentle and kind way about him, which showed most when he dealt with children. He taught vacation bible school at church. He mentored elementary school kids at Tuttle.
Even since he has been at OSU, he's made a point of going back to the elementary school two or three times a year to talk to the kids.
They love him for it.
Earlier this year, Vicki and John got all of the Cowboys to sign a picture during OSU's fan day. They framed it and gave it to the Tuttle football booster club to raffle as a fundraiser. At the elementary school, the line of kids wanting to buy raffle tickets wrapped down and around the halls.
“I always thought he should be a pediatrician or something like that,” his mom said. “He has this gentle nature, which is kind of contrary to being a football player. But he has this love for children that is very special.”
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