Tahlequah Daily Press

October 4, 2013

Businessman’s foresight saved his life

By BEN JOHNSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — All Steve Cooper wanted to do was protect his company. Turns out, he saved his life.

Copper, living in Richmond, Va., at the time, started up a physical therapy equipment company in the mid-1990s. Not long after, the company’s success skyrocketed.

“The company grew much faster than any of us thought it would,” said Cooper, a current Park Hill resident.

At that point, Cooper wanted to make sure his company had a sound financial structure, so he sought out a financial planner. He just wanted to be sure he was making proper business decisions.

While revamping the company’s financial structure, Cooper also wanted a better rate on health insurance.

“The focus was getting a ‘key man’ policy on me,” Cooper said. “It was a $2 million policy on me, so if anything happened to me, the company would be OK.”

With a policy that valuable, Cooper had to go through what he called “a pretty intense physical.”

“They did some very extensive blood work,” Cooper said. “And during the exam, I had noticed on my right breast I had a lump. It wasn’t painful at all, and it was pretty small.”

The lump had grown slightly during that year, but it was never a huge concern for Cooper.

“The doctor said, ‘I’m sure it’s nothing, but we should probably try to get a biopsy of it,’” Cooper recalled. “That was the first alert, and I thought, ‘Is he serious?’”

Cooper decided to go along with the plan and have the lump removed.

“The doctor said it went a little deeper down into the tissue,” Cooper said. “They decided to make a small incision. They went ahead and removed what I thought was a cyst.”

That’s when Cooper received some startling news.

“Turned out, it was a tumor,” he said. “They called it Angiosarcoma. They said there was no chance it had spread; it was malignant.”

From there, Cooper began doing radiation therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University twice a week for six weeks. Yet it didn’t prevent cysts from reappearing on Cooper’s chest.

“I ran to the doctor immediately,” he said. “It was nothing. I was acutely aware, and I was like a hypochondriac about it.”

In 1998, he encountered another scare.

“I felt a lump on the inner half of my breast, closer to my sternum,” Cooper said. “If felt flat, and I didn’t think it was very deep because it felt like it was right on top of the rib.

“This one grew relatively fast, and it was fairly aggressive. The doctor didn’t seem too alarmed, so he did another biopsy. The next day he said, ‘We need to schedule a surgery.’ It had started to spread into the fatty tissue, and they took all [the breast] out around the sternum.”

Cooper has chalked up his cancer scares to his time in the military.

“They’re associating it with having been in Vietnam,” he said. “Now the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] covers me.”

Cooper met his wife, Kim, in 2004, and he said he wouldn’t commit to a relationship until he knew he was free from the threat of cancer. He was, so they practically retired before rejoining the working public.

Steve and Kim now deliver supplies all over the country for the Department of Defense.

“We are really, really blessed,” Cooper said by phone during an interview with the Tahlequah Daily Press while driving through Shreveport, La., on his way to California. “We don’t drive a semi; we drive basically a big motor home. We get paid to see the country, and we have seen some phenomenal things out here.”

Cooper’s living a healthy life now at 63 years old.

“I have no issues now,” he said. “I don’t live in fear because I’ve lived a good life. Most people think I’m in my 40s, so that’s a good thing.”

Cooper has some advice for other men: Don’t be afraid to get checked for breast cancer.

“Don’t blow it off,” Cooper said. “The embarrassment or stigma, I’ve eased up on it. Why shouldn’t I help? It’s harder to diagnose as a male, but it’s harder for women to get rid of. I would just love to get rid of the disease.”

bjohnson@tahlequahdailypress.com