While he cheers on Batman battling his enemies in movies and on television, she watches Gabe bravely fight a much more formidable opponent invading his body.
“How do you tell a 3-year-old you have cancer? I was at a loss for words,” said Misty Rooker, his mother. “I put it in terms he could understand. I said, ‘You’re a superhero now and you’re fighting the bad guys in your body.’”
Gabe was diagnosed in July with neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer affecting the adrenal gland. About 700 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with a new case of the disease each year, according to American Cancer Society.
Gabe’s fourth birthday, June 30, is fast approaching. But unlike most children, he can’t have a traditional party. Several rounds of ongoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, as well as three surgeries, have severely weakened his immune system.
Instead, Misty came up with a creative way to celebrate her superhero: a “card party,” where everyone’s invited, except the germs. Anyone can send Gabe a birthday card all month long at his family’s PO Box.
Using an open Facebook group called “Prayers for Gabe Rooker,” she began promoting the idea.
Now every day feels like a birthday. As of this week, Gabe had already received more than 1,500 cards from about 30 U.S. states and five countries. They cross off states on a large map as he collects a card from each.
“He loves it,” Misty said. “Every day he can’t wait to get the mail.”
Misty’s parents, Linda and Michael Billinghurst, arrive almost every morning at her Amherst home with a stack of new cards for Gabe. Later in the day, Gabe’s dad, Berlin Heights native Dave Rooker, gets the rundown on what new birthday wishes arrived when he returns home from work.
Want to send a birthday card?
Gabe Rooker, PO Box 403, Amherst, OH 44001
More information available at “Prayers for Gabe Rooker” Facebook page. Link to it here.
At the moment, Gabe’s favorites include singing cards and cards displaying animals, Angry Birds or the Disney movie “Cars.”
“He always asks, ‘Who sends me these?’” Linda said. “I just explain, ‘It’s people who love you.’”
One of the biggest surprises is waiting for his actual birthday, Misty said.
On June 30, a group of bikers on a poker run called Heartbeat of a Teddy Bear, will make a special delivery. After dropping off teddy bears to Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, they’re riding to Amherst to deliver cards and a bear to Gabe.
“It makes me feel so grateful to see the outpouring of support for him,” Linda said. “Most people don’t think about something like this until it affects them personally.”
Soon after the bikers leave, Gabe will head to the hospital for a scheduled treatment on his birthday. His family is confident this round could be one of his last. If tests come back positive in mid-September, Gabe’s cancer will be in remission.
It’s always possible the cancer could return, Misty said. Events like Gabe’s card party give them hope throughout the struggle.
“It takes so many people to help get you through this — family, friends, hospital workers, even complete strangers,” Misty said. “This whole journey with Gabe’s cancer has definitely restored our faith in humanity.”