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Continuing the fight

Hundreds of people headed to Nansemond-Suffolk Academy to partake in the Suffolk Rockin’ Relay for Life on Friday evening.

There were new faces of those who have just begun the fight against cancer, and there were old faces of those who are familiar with the fight.

But there were faces missing from the crowd.

One of those faces was that of Rosa Cook.

Cook was a seasoned warrior and a dedicated Relay participant. She stared at the ugly face of cancer enough times to know what it took to fight it. She fought it every day — at work and at home, in health and in pain.

Cook lost her brother to leukemia, and after being diagnosed with cancer and beating it back for 10 years, she lost two of her daughters to cancer before her own cancer returned for a third time and she passed away July 7, 2009, at the age of 87.

Cook worked as a hostess at Hardees on Pruden Boulevard for more than 20 years, and for as long as anyone could remember she was raising money for the Relay.

“She’s been doing it forever and was dedicated to finding a cure for cancer,” said Jackie Scott, general manager at Hardees, who worked with Rosa for the past 20 years. “It was her No. One passion. Her job at Hardee’s was second, and her family fell right between them.”

“No one could get out of Hardees without her asking them to donate,” said Sarah Chipman, Cook’s granddaughter by marriage and a 16-year Relay participant. “You’d be leaving and she’d be asking you, ‘You’re going to donate to me today, right?’”

Whether she felt well or not, Cook was at Hardees every day — even when the doctors put her on disability.

“The doctors put her on disability, but she came back after just two years,” Scott said. “She loved to work. After she broke her hip last year, she was in a wheelchair. She fought her way out of that chair and got a walker. She fought her way of that and came back to work, up and running. Even when she was out of work, she was still coming to Hardees every day to see everybody.”

Her dedication to the Relay and to her job never faltered, no matter how she feeling.

“She had her times,” said Jason Chipman, Cook’s grandson. “She felt bad a lot. She had a lot to feel bad about. But, she’d grab a broom and start sweeping. She just kept working.”

Her work ethic transferred to the Relay, as well, where she had the reputation of being one of their most steadfast rockers.

“There were many relays with storms, wind, pollen and cold, but who stayed all night long rocking? Rosa did. She was always here, bundled in a blanket and rocking,” said Harriet Wills, a Relay volunteer and friend of Cook’s. “Her life outside of Hardees was the Relay. She was dedicated. There’s no other word for it.”

Cook is remembered by her friends and family as a survivor. She never stopped fighting.

After she broke her hip in May 2009, she was at work and taken to the hospital because of pain. She returned to work for three weeks, and Scott remembers her doctor pulled her from work. A week and a half later she passed away.

“That was the one thing she never did talk about,” said Jason Chipman. “We think it was in her bones and just so advanced that there was nothing to be done. Of course, she didn’t want to worry us.”

“We think she knew,” Scott said. “She was a courageous and strong lady – a survivor in every way. Even in her last hours, she didn’t want heavy medication until she couldn’t take it any longer. She was a fighter.”

In her memory, Scott and her co-workers are continuing Rosa’s fight.

Hardees put together a team and raised $800 for the Relay for Life this year.

“I lost my mom,” said Natika Boone, who worked with Cook and was with her when she passed. “She knew that and knew I was trying to support my family. Losing Miss Rosa was like losing a mom all over again.”

“We love her so much we put together a team to continue her fight,” Scott said. “She’d do whatever she could to help someone else — whether it was by relaying or just helping someone out at work. Just because she’s gone doesn’t mean her fight should stop.”

Chipman and his wife, Sarah, also walked for Cook, along with her daughters — Chipman’s aunt and mother — and Sarah, a 16-year cancer survivor and many other relatives.

“She had a passion for life,” Sarah Chipman said. “If she was alive today, she’d be raising money tomorrow.”

“You know she’d be pleased by all the work everyone is doing in her memory,” Will said. “She’d want it to go on and on.”