Like many other boys his age, Cole Cross, 10, likes to play baseball. Cole was born with Down Syndrome. He plays for the Whitby Challengers, a team where kids with special needs from ages five to 18 get together and play.
On New Year’s Day Cole was in pain. His parents, Ashley and Jamie, took him to the Oshawa General Hospital for what they believed to be appendicitis. Later that night he was transferred from Oshawa to the SickKids hospital in Toronto. Cole’s family heard a word parents hope they never hear. Cancer.
Tracy Roulston, sales manager at Marigold Ford in Whitby, learned of Cole’s cancer through her friend, Whitby Challengers president Norman Sheppard. She wanted to help.
“He’s a lovely little soul. Out of all the kids, I remember him. Norm had told me [the news] and it was right then I broke into tears and said, ‘we’ve got to do something’,” Roulston explained.
She set up a display in the Marigold Ford Lincoln showroom to gather funds and toys for Cole. Simultaneously she launched an aggressive campaign on social media using the hashtags #swagforcole and #cashforcole with the hope of drawing the attention of her community.
“I just want to give them a fistful of cash and say, ‘here, go get yourself a bagel and don’t worry we’ve got your back’,” says Roulston.
But Roulston didn’t need to beg or knock on any doors. The support poured in. Sure enough, money and toys started coming in from all corners of Durham Region. Local shops such as Scholar’s Choice heard the news and responded by giving crafts and books.
Cole likes WWE and Monster Trucks. In a matter of days, he found himself surrounded by wrestling and Monster Truck toys. So many in fact that the hospital had to move him to a bigger room to accommodate all the presents, according to Roulston.
“Oh my god. The support has been over the top. The power of social media has been wonderful,” says Roulston. “I’m not stopping until he’s home. [Former MLB player] Jesse Barfield sent him a note. Rumour is the Raptor have seen it and they’re gonna be sending a player or two. WWE have already sent him a gift and they may be sending him a visitor.”
Roulston got the idea to raise funds after seeing a GoFundMe account set up for Cole online.
“I noticed a friend had set up a GoFundMe account and they’re wonderful, but how soon do they get the cash? The family needs it now. They have gas and groceries,” she says.
Roulston says Cole is expected to stay in the hospital for a minimum of four months. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
“His mom and dad were not expecting anything. They’re in the hospital with a little boy who’s fighting for his life like crazy,” Roulston says.
As president of the Whitby Challengers baseball team. Sheppard’s team offers children with special needs the opportunity to play ball in a stress-free, team environment.
Two years ago he was asked to be involved with the team. Sheppard didn’t hesitate to join for a minute.
“Heck, yeah I want to be on board,” was Sheppard’s answer.
He’s seen firsthand how playing baseball affects kids.
“They start out they have little confidence and they’re looking at the ground. By the end they’re running, throwing the ball,” he explains.
It goes beyond just baseball. Sheppard has known Cole and his family for years.
“The first time I met Cole in school he was this positive, energetic kid. He had great manners. I honestly think he is a really great kid and I don’t mean that lightly. For that to happen to him is sad, but we’re gonna see that he gets better,” says Sheppard.
Many have gone out of their way to aid Cole and his family through this difficult time. Every little bit helps, every dollar, every quarter.
Sheppard recalls a little boy who played soccer with Cole who wanted to help.
“He was saving his quarters and his loonies and he actually brought that money. Everything he had, that’s his life savings right there.”
In mid-January Sheppard brought the first delivery to Cole at SickKids. He says the Whitby Challenger is already surrounded by toys and his family.
“They’re a tight-knit group. His mother’s with Cole. If his dad’s not doing something in Whitby he’s there, aunts are there, his grandmother, great-grandma. Everybody’s there. He’s got so much love and support around him.”But for some, it can be difficult to find support after a cancer diagnosis.
The 2017 Durham College journalism class holding a #ColeWeCare sign to show support.
Hearth Place Cancer Support Center offers wellness groups, art therapy, care packages for kids and more.All these services are offered to Durham Region residents for free.
“We are the only cancer support center in the
Durham Region. As a drop in center we respond immediately to the needs of members. Our services are provided free of charge,” says member co-ordinator Sonja Shepherd.
Hearth Place has a simple, but noble goal.
“[We want] to continue to provide our emotional, wellness and information support programs to cancer patients and their families,” Shepherd explains.
Earlier this month, Cole was able to leave the hospital for one day after receiving the OK from the doctors at SickKids.
“[sic] Might only be for a few hours but Cole can’t wait to see his puppy and some of his friends and supporters. This is a thanks to everyone’s prayers and Cole’s strength! He gets a day break and then starts next set of chemo,” said his mother in a Facebook post.