Gabe, who will officially turn 4 on June 30, is celebrating this year with a card party.
The Amherst boy, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his third birthday, can’t have a traditional birthday party with lots of kids — and germs — because his immune system isn’t strong enough.
Instead, his mom, Misty Rooker, came up with the idea of a card party.
“I knew he couldn’t have a big crowd kind of party,” she said. “I know how happy Gabe is when he gets the mail every day. It makes him feel special. My sister makes cards, too, so this idea just kind of manifested.”
Gabe received his first card on May 20. So far, he has received 77, and it’s only the beginning of June.
Disney characters, Nick Jr. characters, dinosaurs, cars — he’s getting them all. And he loves it.
“Every day he asks, ‘Mom, do you think I’ll get mail today?’ ” Misty Rooker said.
Misty Rooker is getting the word out using Facebook. Gabe has his own page, Prayers for Gabe Rooker, that is open to everyone.
As a result, cards are pouring in from across the country, many from people she doesn’t even know.
“A lot are from churches,” she said. “People are sharing the page with other people they know, and it’s just spreading.”
Misty Rooker doesn’t know what she will do with all of the cards.
“If this gets as big as I think it’s going to get, I don’t think I have enough wall space to display all of them,” she said. “We did get one of those huge maps of the United States and we’re marking each state as they come in.”
Gabe’s dad, Dave Rooker, gets the rundown on the cards every day when he returns home from work.
“Today, his favorite is a low rider car that plays the theme song from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when you open it,” Dave Rooker said. “I see him thriving (when he gets the cards) and it’s just exciting.”
On Gabe’s actual birthday, a group of bikers on a poker run called Heartbeat of a Teddy Bear, will be making an extra special delivery to Gabe. After dropping off teddy bears to Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, they will ride to Amherst to deliver cards and a bear to Gabe.
The excitement will be short-lived, however, as Gabe is scheduled to go back into the hospital on June 30 for further treatment.
It’s something he has grown accustomed to, since being diagnosed in July.
Gabe experienced night sweats and temperatures during the month prior, but blood tests revealed nothing. Then, a family member noticed the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen, so it was back for more tests.
Those tests showed a grapefruit-sized mass in Gabe’s abdomen. His type of cancer is cancer of the adrenal gland, and it has spread halfway across his body into his lymph nodes.
“We’ve never asked for a prognosis,” Misty Rooker said. “The closest we’ve asked is, ‘Can we beat this?’ The doctor told us that every case is different.”
Gabe’s form of cancer is especially nasty and has a very high recurrence rate, so chances are the cancer will return later in life, Misty Rooker said.
But Gabe is a fighter.
He has already gone through seven rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries, 12 radiation treatments, and a stem cell transplant. He is currently receiving anti-body treatments.
“He inspires all of us,” Misty Rooker said. “It has been such a big part of his life for so long, he gets excited when he gets to go to the hospital to see the doctors and nurses. He doesn’t know any better. He’s been quite the trooper.”
As for Misty Rooker, she tries to take every day as it comes.
“I do my best to stay strong and to keep faith,” she said. “When he was first diagnosed, there were five of us in the room and we were all crying. It upset Gabe. I try to keep my emotions in check and try to stay very positive for him. But what he doesn’t realize is that we all draw our strength off of him.”
And Gabe is a strong little boy.
He has sock wars with his dad. He likes to watch baseball with his dad and poppa. He plays cars and is in to “Angry Birds.”
“He’s a boy all the way,” Misty Rooker said.
Sock wars is a particularly fun game for Gabe and his dad. They take all of the clean socks that Misty Rooker has rolled up to put away, and they throw them around the room trying to bomb each other. Misty Rooker is typically caught in the crossfire.
“We had a hunt with them this morning,” Dave Rooker said.
But Gabe also is a very sweet child, his dad said.
“If he’s been cranky or mad at you, he will come over and give you a big hug and say he is sorry,” Dave Rooker said.
When he was in the hospital for his transplant, he was throwing up and Misty Rooker began to cry.
“He asked why she was crying, and she said she just gets sad sometimes,” Dave Rooker recalled. “Gabe said, ‘I can fix that.’ And he reached out gave her a big hug. He’s just really concerned with how others are around him.”
In addition to Gabe, the Rookers have two older sons, Corey, 16, and Bryan, 14.
To wish Gabe Rooker a happy birthday, send cards to: Gabe Rooker, P.O. Box 403, Amherst, OH 44001.
Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.