By Jo E. Prout
VOORHEESVILLE — More than 600 people turned out Sunday for the Voorheesville Volunteer Fire Department’s annual breakfast with Santa, after members decided to devote proceeds to the family of 17-month-old Cooper Lare, who was diagnosed with cancer last month.
Lare’s father, Josh Lare, has been a volunteer with the Guilderland Center Fire Department for 20 years, he said.
“The fire department gives back to the community. It’s a mind-set that we have. To see the fire community’s...unbelievable amount of support — it’s overwhelming,” Lare said.
Lare and his wife, Cristen, took their son, Cooper, to the Albany Medical Center emergency room on Veterans Day for what was found to be a rare cancer that caused a large tumor to grow in Cooper’s stomach. The couple first observed the mass in late October, Lare said.
“We had noticed his belly had been getting kind of big,” he said. The experienced parents of Cooper’s 3-year-old sister, Addison, the Lares realized Cooper’s stomach was “real distended, real hard,” Lare said.
The couple took Cooper to his pediatrician, who dismissed their fears and sent Cooper home.
“He kept getting fevers every week,” Lare said. Cooper’s appetite diminished, also, Lare said. They went on a trip, but, when they returned, they decided to go straight to the emergency room.
Cooper was kept overnight, and an ultrasound the next morning found “a giant mass,” Lare said describing a tumor found in Cooper’s abdomen. On the following day, surgeons removed the tumor, Lare said.
“They ended up removing all of it,” he said.
Cooper and his family spent nearly two weeks in Albany Med, first in the pediatric intensive care unit, and later in a room for those needing less critical care.
“He recovered very quickly,” Lare said. The family was back home in time for Thanksgiving, he said. Cooper started chemotherapy last week. He will receive a full year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Lare said. Cooper is faring well so far, he said, but the chemotherapy is affecting him.
“There’s definitely some things we’ve noticed,” Lare said, but he expressed hope about the coming year.
“We’ll stick together as a family and we’ll get through it, but it’ll be a long road,” Lare said.
Asked if the Lares still have the same pediatrician, Lare laughed.
“We switched pediatricians almost immediately. My wife was not very pleased, to say the least,” he said.
Frank Papa, a member of the Voorheesville fire department, told The Enterprise that Cooper’s experience came up in a department meeting and the members agreed to donate the proceeds to him for transportation, lodging, or food during travel for future treatments.
“Voorheesville and Guilderland Center have always had good mutual aid,” Papa said. Other fire departments showed up and were “very generous,” Papa said. “A lot of people from the area were involved,” he said.
Voorheesville expected about 200 people at its breakfast with Santa, he said.
“We wound up with over 600 people for the event. We had people waiting,” Papa said. Some of them left donations without eating, he said. In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Papa outlined the many fire departments that were represented at the breakfast.
Papa said that final figures are still being calculated, but that the event would provide more than $3,000 to the Lare family.
“We’re going to do well,” he said.
“I don’t even know how to say thank you,” Lare told The Enterprise. Co-workers from his job at BullEx and his wife’s job at the Albany Community Charter School attended the breakfast, as did members of fire departments from all over the Capital Region, Lare said.
“It was amazing. Truly amazing,” he said.
Lare was stunned by the amount of the proceeds.
“We’ve done breakfasts where you’re lucky to make a hundred bucks,” he said. “These guys in Voorheesville are just truly amazing. There are no words we can say to express our gratitude. They’re incredible people.”
Cooper’s sister, Addison, is handling the excitement well, Lare said.
“I don’t know if she fully understands,” he said. He and Cristen have explained that Cooper had a sick belly and needs to keep seeing the doctor. Addison can see the scar that runs from one side of Cooper’s abdomen to the other, Lare said. The entire family is still trying to deal with the toddler’s illness, he said.
“It’s happened so very quickly,” he said.
“In this world we live in, people still do care about their neighbors. It’s truly a wonderful feeling,” Lare said.
“It’s certainly going to be a long road,” he said of Cooper’s treatments. The family hopes to take the spirit of generosity they have experienced, and, once Cooper’s illness is behind them, move on and “do something for someone else,” he said.