COLUMBIA — This time last year, Cooper Moss, then a junior at Rock Bridge High School, was just goofing around at band camp when he felt an unusual lump on his left hip.
When he came home, he joked about it, telling his mother, Nancy Moss, "Look, Mom, I'm asymmetrical."
That lump, it turned out, was cancer.
On Tuesday, after almost a year of radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries, Cooper celebrated his recovery.
Cooper, his family and friends gathered at the Columbia Country Club to mark his recovery and recent Make-A-Wish trip. The Make-A-Wish Foundation sent Cooper and his family to Seattle in July to attend an international video game championship.
"It shows that people care," Cooper said. "I was glad to get something good after all the chemo."
Soft tissue sarcomas are cancerous tumors that develop from tissues such as fat, muscle and nerves, among others. They usually develop in the arms and legs. According to the American Cancer Society, about 12,020 new soft tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in 2014. And nearly 5,000 people will die from soft tissue sarcomas this year.
Cooper’s tumor was lodged just above his left hip bone. It looked like an innocent, flesh-colored bump, Nancy Moss said, and Cooper's buddies even gave it a comical name, Cat Lasterdy.
Looks were deceptive. The sarcoma caused Cooper to miss his brother's high school graduation, spend his 17th birthday in the hospital, lose his hair twice and miss weeks of school at a time, Nancy Moss said.
During treatment, he underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation and two major surgeries.
Throughout the process, Cooper attended high school in between in-hospital chemotherapy treatments. His band friends would come to visit him in the hospital, Nancy Moss said.
In addition to friends, playing "Dota 2" helped Cooper through his treatments. Although Cooper was often confined to a bed, Nancy Moss said, the computer game allowed him to connect with friends around the world.
"Dota 2" is a multiplayer video game, in which participants assemble a team of five heroes. Each hero has a specific set of abilities. (Cooper's preferred hero to play is Beastmaster.) And the team battles another group of five for control of a fantastical land.
When the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Cooper a wish, Cooper lept at the chance to attend The International, the "Dota 2" championship. The International invites the best teams worldwide to compete in July in Seattle. This year the prize pool was more than $10 million, making it the largest electronic sports tournament.
Although the championship had already sold out, Make-A-Wish gave Cooper the opportunity to attend.
In mid-July, the entire Moss family traveled to Seattle for a six-day, five-night stay focused on the tournament. The trip was a celebratory affair. It came at the end of Cooper's treatment, when the 17-year-old's scans were clean and he had finished with chemotherapy, Nancy Moss said.
"It’s just amazing what they did," his mother said. "We got to go and celebrate the end of his treatment. He got to feel special, like he accomplished something."
The trip also had certain perks for Cooper. When Valve, the video game developer, got word of Cooper’s wish, they hooked him up with a swag bag filled with "Dota 2" figurines and exclusive access to the suite levels in KeyArena.
Although the high schooler didn't get to meet any of the players he'd gone to battle with online, he said meeting the best "Dota 2" gamers was "the most exciting part" of his trip.
"There was no place I would rather be than there. It was a unique experience," Cooper said.
Cooper and his older brother, Ethan, a college freshman, spent most of their time at the championship. But Make-A-Wish also planned activities to keep the entire family entertained (even the ones who were admittedly not that into multiplayer video games). Cooper’s younger sister, Maia Moss, and his parents visited the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and other tourist attractions. Cooper said a highlight of the trip was being able to have dinner with his family atop the Space Needle.
"It was incredible from the minute we left until the minute we arrived home," Steve Moss said. "They didn’t miss a step in making us feel special."
During Tuesday's festivities, Cooper was able to regale his friends and well-wishers with tales from his trip. He and his friends decorated a poster that read "Goodbye Cat Lasterdy."
Now that Cat Lasterdy is gone, Cooper can return to the life of a high school senior.
He will start his final year at Rock Bridge next week and is looking forward to playing vibraphone in the school's marching band.
Most of all, his mother said, he's excited to have a normal senior year.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.