There was a time when Josh and Alicia Cook wondered how everything could go so wrong.
“What did we do? Who did we make angry?” Alicia recalls thinking as her family faced one serious dilemma after another beginning in early 2012.
The Worth family’s world was shaken in February, 2012 when their son, Chase, now 16, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Two years later, his father, Josh, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and was unable to work.
Josh does not smoke or chew tobacco, so the diagnosis came as quite a surprise. It also came as Alicia’s husband of 17 years was about to start a new job.
While Josh underwent chemo and radiation treatment after tumors were removed from his tongue and cheek, Alicia lost her job as a schoolteacher.
The past two years were clearly challenging ones for the Cooks. They faced overwhelming financial struggles coupled with the anxiety that accompanies serious illnesses.
“It was a roller coaster of ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?’” Alicia said.
Still, the Cooks refused to buckle during trying times, and employed a one-day-at-a-time approach.
“Basically, it was ‘Today is Monday. What do we have to do to get through Monday,’” Alicia Cook said.
Alicia stood by Chase and later, Josh, 41, during their treatments at the University of Chicago Medical Center while at the same time taking care of her four other children: Zane, 14; Ariana, 12; Xavier, 9; and Blake, 6.
“They felt distracted, but I’d like to say they handled really well,” she said of her children.
But this story has a happy ending that has the Cooks entering the New Year in a more hopeful place than they were three years ago.
Chase’s cancer is in remission, and Josh’s latest cancer scan was clear. He continues to gain his strength, and has a lead on new job when he’s ready to go back to work.
Alicia, meanwhile, is back in the classroom, teaching high school students in Cicero.
To top it all off, the Cooks won’t have to make a mortgage payment in 2015.
Instead, Gradient, a Minnesota-based financial services company, and its Gradient Gives Back Foundation, will foot the bill.
Alicia Cook found out about the foundation after meeting with a social worker at the University of Chicago Medical Center about assistance for families facing drastic illnesses.
“That started me looking,” said Alicia, who learned about the Gradient Gives Back Foundation via a web search.
As part of the application process, she chronicled the family’s struggles, and outlined all the Cooks had done to give back to the community despite their own obstacles.
“We give back and that’s what they ask about, and they were touched by all that,” Alicia said.
Many families have fundraisers when a serious illness strikes and causes financial hardships. Not the Cooks.
Instead, they continued to help others.
The boys mowed the lawns of elderly relatives and neighbors.
Ariana accompanied her dad to chemo sessions.
Chase, while battling his own disease, organized a fundraiser at Worth Junior High with all the proceeds, going to cure it and the foundation his doctor started.
As part of the application process, Alicia went through a series of phone interviews with Gradient officials during the summer. In December, the family was invited to Mokena to meet with foundation representatives.
The Cooks were told they were one of five finalists for the annual award and the 30-minute, videotaped interview would help Gradient make a decision.
It was tough interview for Alicia.
“I started talking about Chase and my emotions came out and I started crying,” she recalled.
What the Cooks did not know during their December interview was that they had already been chosen to receive the mortgage payment award.
“It was very exciting,” said Alicia, who said she knew something was up when WGN News cameras were on the scene along with some other photographers.
“It was kind of a dead giveaway with the news cameras,” she said.
The mortgage payments begin in January and for an entire year the Cooks can focus on regaining a financial foothold. Gone are the days when Alicia has to count every penny or decide which bill could be put off so another could be paid.
Josh is regaining his strength and his sense of taste, which he lost as a result of radiation treatment.
“He was able to enjoy Christmas dinner,” Alicia said.
It’s safe to say all of the Cooks enjoyed Christmas dinner.
And they hope that they will enjoy their outlook for 2015 even more.