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Sahuarita celebrating Christmas early for 4-year old with terminal cancer

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A group of neighborhood kids gather around a song book and use a cell phone to illuminate the lyrics while singing carols with several several hundred others in the street outside 4-year-old Marcus Cook Jr.'s home, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 in Sahuarita. Marcus is fighting terminal anaplastic ependymoma and friends, family and neighbors came together to make Christmas and his birthday special.

About 200 people gather to sing Christmas carols outside a Sahuarita home on a Thursday evening.

It's a little early for that — Nov. 15 — but a giant inflatable snowman sits on the roof and fake snow spews out of a machine as children frolic and laugh under its bubbly white flakes.

Through the living room window, Marcus Cook, 4, is visible, sitting with his father in a recliner, peeking through the glass with a radiant smile on his face. He is surrounded by family, friends, and giant stacks of presents. 

Marcus is very sick and everyone is here to make his Christmas and birthday, on Dec. 15, a little bit brighter. 

Marcus, who also goes by Junior, was recently put on hospice care due to terminal anaplastic ependymoma, a type of cancer that has invaded his brain and spine.

He was first diagnosed with the disease in August 2017 and had surgery to remove the tumor, followed by radiation. 

The family thought the cancer was gone, said Kristi Kosiorowski, the boy's aunt. 

But a scan taken in July 2018 revealed four tumors had grown in his brain and spine.

Last week when Junior wasn't feeling well the family thought he had a bug that was going around. But when he held his head and screamed in pain Friday night they knew it was something else. 

Marcus Cook Jr., in the arms of his dad Marcus, glances out the living room window at the hundreds of well-wishers who gathered in the street outside their home to sing him carols and bring him gifts, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 in Sahuarita. Marcus is fighting terminal anapestic ependymoma and friends, family and neighbors tried to make Christmas and his birthday special.

At the emergency room, Junior was rushed for brain scans, which showed the tumors had grown, Kosiorowski said.

"The doctor said, 'This is the hardest part of my job. There's nothing we can do,'" Kosiorowski said.

That was Friday, Nov. 9.

The family decided to take Junior home from the hospital, where he is receiving hospice care. 

"He's such a happy sweet boy," Kosiorowski said. "He's the sweetest little thing."

Since then, the community has come together to give Junior an unforgettable holiday. 

The Green Valley fire department took him to see "The Grinch" Thursday afternoon. While he was at the movies, family, community members and Rural Metro firefighters decorated the family's home inside and out to surprise him with an early Christmas.

That wasn't the only surprise in store for Junior.

Kosiorowski and family friend Blaire Mathias put word out via Facebook and the Sahuarita Sun that people should gather at the Cook home to sing carols and bring presents for Junior and his little brother, Thor on Thursday night. 

The crowd that shows up is full of friends, family, local police and firefighters, and many community members that have never met the family. 

As people gather and wait to start singing, Mathias thanks the community for its support.

"Thank you so much for coming," Mathias says. "This community is amazing...We don't even know each other and you all came and did this."

Adriana Fielden hangs onto a double stroller with her 2-year-old twins. She doesn't know the Cook family, but is here to show support. 

"It's just so sad when families have to go through this," Fielden says. "So I'm hoping to bring some holiday cheer."

The fact that most people here don't know each other is part of the beauty, Fielden says.

"Everybody is introducing themselves to each other," Fielden says. "It's really nice to see."

Kiamani Castaneda stands with her friend Sabrina Diaz and their children as the crowd starts to grow. Neither of the ladies have met Marcus or his parents.

"I am just here to support, pray and stand in the gap for this family that is suffering," Castaneda says. 

Mathias and Kosiorowski have asked that the community decorate for Christmas early this year and are encouraging people to light up their houses in blue because it's Marcus' favorite color. 

Diaz says her husband saw that request on Facebook, so she went out and bought lights to put up for Marcus.

The caroling opens up with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Some read the lyrics from music sheets that are handed out, while others look up the song on their phones. 

Marcus peeks through the living room window where he's sitting with his dad, too tired to come outside.

"He's a total daddy's boy," Kosiorowski says. "He's tired from being out today."

A slow procession of police cars drives down the street with flashing red and blue lights. 

A loud "Ho, ho ho!" is heard as Santa makes his way into the Cook home. Everyone applauds and cheers for him. 

Marcus is all smiles as he hangs out with Santa and plays with his train.

After about an hour of caroling, the evening starts to wind down.  

Mathias asks everybody to wish Marcus a happy birthday.

The crowd's response is almost deafening. 

"Happy birthday, Marcus!" they yell.

From his dad's arms, Junior looks through the window one last time as everyone sings the birthday song. 

Kosiorowski and Mathias also started a Facebook fundraiser where they are trying to raise at least $15,000 to help the family. As of Friday morning more than $7,000 has been raised.

Those who decorate their houses early should take a picture and post it with #ChristmasforMarcus and #LightitupforJunior

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson