Bertie minister battles cancer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2006

WINDSOR – The Rev. Hoyt Cooper believes a positive attitude is always half the battle.

It is a tenet that has served him well throughout his life, especially when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997.

&uot;When the doctor told me I had cancer, I took it as a diagnosis, not a death sentence,&uot; the pastor said.

The minister will be among cancer survivors who speak when Relay for Life volunteers gather at Bertie High School athletic field May 19-20 to raise money that will fight this disease. Other cancer survivors and the public are encouraged to be on the field for opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. on May 19. Cancer survivors will be recognized and honored.

This will not be the first time the pastor has working with Relay for Life because he has been one of its most devoted volunteers for years.

Reverend Cooper is a native of Bertie County and son of the late Joe and Gladys Cooper. He is wed to Alma Heckstall Cooper and the couple has two children, Veta C. Henderson of Winston-Salem and Joy C. Belk of Garner.

He attended Manhattan Medical Assistance School, Shaw University and Carolina University of Theology. Now he has been in the ministry in this area 25 years and is pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Scotland Neck.

Reverend Cooper’s original diagnosis was prostatitus and he was having regular checks on the prostate gland. Because of a high PSA count that kept rising, a biopsy was done and showed a malignancy.

He didn’t know it at the time, but prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed non-skin cancer in America. Prostate cancer incidence rates are one-third higher for African American men than for whites and death rates are twice as high.

The minister said the diagnosis was not a surprise because the disease runs in his family. His father and both brothers had cancer. One brother, Garlon Cooper, still lives in Windsor and cancer took the life of another, Joe Cooper, Jr., who also lived in Windsor.

&uot;But I don’t intend to die from cancer,&uot; Reverend Cooper said.

It was hard for Mrs. Cooper to describe how she felt when she heard the dreaded diagnosis and she was afraid for her husband.

&uot;But I figured he knows God and God would hear our prayer,&uot; she said.

Methods to diagnose and treat cancer are vastly better today than even a few years ago. Reverend Cooper had radical surgery to remove his prostate and today it can often be done through small holes instead of a major incision.

Patients often were incontinent after past prostrate surgeries. But at the time of his treatment, a new device was coming into use called a sling, which provides support lost through surgery, and the minister agreed to give it a try. Today he has no incontinence. He had no chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

&uot;My surgery went so well that I can’t find any scar,&uot; Reverend Cooper said last week.

The minister urges both men and women to actively have a part in their health care, to get regular checkups and keep tabs on any changes or problems.

Even with the full time job of serving a church and also as a Windsor Town Commissioner, Reverend Cooper has agreed to work in American Cancer Society’s Man to Man Program. He begins training for the program in June.

After he was originally diagnosed with prostate cancer, someone from American Cancer Society directed him to contact a Greenville man who had already been through the same surgery. Talking with someone who knew exactly what he was going through was a big help in the minister’s recovery. In the Man to Man Program, he will be working to provide the same kind of assurance and education to today’s prostate cancer patients.

When asked why he agreed to this added responsibility, Reverend Cooper had three reasons: it is hard for him to say no when there is a need; a conversion with Christ leads him to act; and God never gives him more than he can handle.

This busy cancer survivor has no real hobbies. He’s too impatient to fish, but says his favorite pastime is spending time with his three grandchildren.

What is his least favorite thing in life?

&uot;I dislike a negative attitude,&uot; Reverend Cooper said.