One on One with Brittany Cogan

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Ellen Geller Kamaras 

“It is not our right, but it is our obligation and responsibility to share Ellie’s story and raise awareness for pediatric cancer.” ~~ Brittany  

Brittany Cogan, née Rumeld, is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and the co-founder of the Ellie Ruby Foundation.  She is a young and courageous mom who, along with her husband Jonathan, navigated an overwhelming journey with their baby girl’s brain cancer. 

 

Childhood 

Brittany was born in Manhattan, to Elysee and Myron Rumeld, both New Yorkers of Ashkenaz descent. She is one of four children and “second in the line-up.”  The siblings have remained close.    

Brittany grew up in NYC and her family had a summer house in Deal.   When she was five, her parents decided to move and settled near Congregation Magen David of West Deal . Brittany attended Hillel Yeshiva from kindergarten through high school. 

While growing up in the Syrian community, Brittany maintained her Ashkenaz identity by going away for the summers. She became an advocate for Israel at a young age when she attended a two-year leadership and education program for Jewish high school students.  

Brittany loved school and was an A student. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from college with Phi Beta Kappa honors.  

 

College & Career  

After high school, Brittany studied at Binghamton University, majoring in history with a minor in Jewish history. Each summer, she took different internships to help her to decide on the right career path. She interned at an advertising agency a fashion PR firm, and the summer before her senior year, at the Stephen Gaynor Summer Camp in Manhattan. At the camp Brittany developed a special connection to the children. Brittany felt it was rewarding to be part of a camp that gave kids a specialized setting to learn and play. 

After graduating, Brittany moved to Manhattan and attended Bank Street College of Education to pursue a dual degree master’s program in Childhood General & Special Education.  

My practicum experiences at SAR Academy as an assistant teacher and with autistic children in a public school helped me to understand my career path and how to make a difference with special education. There is nothing more rewarding than helping children overcome their challenges to become the future leaders of our country. 

After graduating Bank Street, Brittany was offered a position as a third grade teacher at Ramaz. After three years, she became a learning specialist, and was able to follow her true passion. “Work never ended at dismissal. I tutored many students nightly to help support my family. After three years as a learning specialist, I resigned from Ramaz when Ellie got sick, to become her primary caregiver.” 

 

Then Came Marriage  

Brittany married her naseeb, Jonathan Cogan, one year older, immediately after graduating college. Jonathan is a finance professional at BlackRock, a multinational investment company. The couple live in Deal, and are blessed with two sons and one daughter, Brody (ten), Grayson (eight), and Ellie (four).   

Their children attend Hillel Yeshiva and the family practices a mix of Ashkenaz and Sephardic traditions.   

 

Essence & Passions 

Brittany loves to help others feel good about themselves, whether it’s in her teaching career with learning-disabled students or in her latest career endeavor as a Megaformer workout instructor. 

She is also passionate about spreading awareness for pediatric cancer. “I wish the world knew more about this, so that we can create a better future for children like my daughter.” 

Her proudest accomplishments include her master’s in a dual program, being a mom to three unique and amazing children, establishing the ERF with her husband during the most challenging and dark time, being a supportive, communicative wife, and building a tutoring business. 

“My husband and children are supportive of my career choices and are my best cheerleaders,” Brittany says with a smile. 

 

Ellie’s Journey 

In July of 2020, when Ellie was 11 months old, she stopped moving her left arm. Determining what was wrong was difficult as Ellie could not talk to describe what was going on with her or to express her pain.  Unfortunately, she was misdiagnosed for weeks by various doctors and hospitals until Brittany told the new residents at NYP Weill Cornell to run a brain MRI.  They found an eight cm brain tumor that took up the entire right lobe of Ellie’s brain.  

“Ellie had emergency surgery that next morning on July 19, and my life will never be the same. I left my career, my boys, and became a cancer mom.”  

The tumor and surgery left Ellie hemiplegic, meaning she suffered paralysis on one side of her body. For Ellie, the slight paralysis was in her left side.  The Cogans were told that the surgery was “successful,” and that Ellie needed to be in a rehabilitation hospital before chemotherapy could start. 

Brittany and Jonathan rotated staying with Ellie, as COVID rules permitted only one caregiver at a time. Two weeks after the surgery, Ellie fell out of her crib onto her head and had a follow-up MRI scan.  The tumor had grown back only two weeks after surgery.  

Ellie was diagnosed with a glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is the most aggressive type of brain tumor.  But Ellie’s tumor was presenting differently.  After three resection surgeries (resection surgery removes tissue or all or part of an organ) and four different chemotherapy agents, Ellie’s tumor continued to grow back.  

 

Taking Action 

Since it was the height of the pandemic and no one in their communities had gone through infantile brain cancer, the Cogans decided to share their story on social media. 

Their friends organized a Warrior Walk in honor of Ellie to help bring awareness and raise money with the sale of Team Ellie t-shirts. People showed up from near and far to participate in an outdoor COVID-safe walk in support of Ellie. The Walk raised even more funds than were expected. The Cogans had also received considerable support from strangers in the form of meal trains and gift baskets. 

That is what compelled them to establish The Ellie Ruby Foundation (ERF) – to bring smiles and support to families battling pediatric cancer. “We looked at our Ellie through every surgery, procedure, and chemo regimen, and she was always smiling. Her smile inspired us to help others. ERF helps families financially and emotionally and funds research for cures for rare cancers.” The Cogans are proud that through their efforts, almost a half million dollars has been donated to pediatric cancer research and help for families.  

 

From Out of the Depths 

While planning the launch of their foundation, Ellie was losing her battle to brain cancer. In January 2021, the Cogans were told that their last option was to try proton radiation, also known as proton beam therapy, which is a radiation treatment that precisely delivers a beam of protons to disrupt and destroy tumor cells. This treatment is not recommended for children under three years old (Ellie was 17 months) because it can cause significant cognitive delays and deficits. However, the Cogans pursued that treatment, realizing it was their only option.  

Brittany is thrilled to report that Ellie has been tumor-free since March 2021. She gets MRI scans frequently to ensure there is no resurgence. 

Ellie’s journey does not end here. She is followed by a team of doctors, therapists, and specialists who manage her ongoing care to help with her hemiplegia and cognitive deficits. The Cogans continue to spread awareness and advocate for pediatric cancer because they understand that a pediatric cancer diagnosis presents a lifelong challenge.  

 

Family Role Models and Support 

Brittany’s mother and her paternal grandmother, Ellen, inspired Brittany to become a teacher. Ellen fled Nazi Germany and immigrated to the U.S. She was committed to staying close to her Jewish roots and taught Hebrew school in Forest Hills.  

Brittany’s mother, Elysee, is her best friend, whose opinion she valued from day one. Brittany followed in her mother’s footsteps.  Elysee has a master’s in special education and taught at the Stephen Gaynor School and at Ramaz.  

Brittany’s dad encouraged her to work hard to achieve success. “He commuted to/from NYC before blackberries and remote email, yet he always helped me with homework and attended my basketball games.” Mr. Rumeld currently serves on the Hillel Yeshiva board. 

Brittany’s husband Jonathan stayed close by her side through thick and thin. “Jonathan supported me through every career endeavor, and worked tirelessly to find the best hospitals and doctors who could save our daughter’s life while still working his day job and providing for our family. He always stayed positive and strong, and held himself gracefully when his mother lost her battle to cancer this year.” 

Brittany’s aunt, Daniella Schertz, was there for Brittney. Daniella launched Ellie’s Great Big Challah Bake when Ellie was diagnosed with cancer. It went viral on Instagram, and Daniella was dubbed “CHOPRA” – “Challa Oprah.”   

 

Daily Routine 

Brittany wakes up 5am, two hours before her kids, to get as much done as she can for the busy day ahead. She cooks dinner and plans her workout sequences or lesson plans for tutoring. Once her children are up, it’s non-stop. Brittany strives to get to bed at 9:45pm to be prepared for the next day. 

“Now that Ellie is home, I can spend time with my family, cook their favorite foods, and help them with their homework. This role reversal is wild, but I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.  

“I LOVE and truly respect the Deal Syrian community for being so tight-knit and supportive in every area of life.” 

Brittany is involved with the Morris Franco Center, which tremendously helped support her family. She aspires to build a network of resources for pediatric cancer so that the Center can help more children.  

 

What’s Next 

Brittany plans on growing the ERF to help more children and to support more research for cures for rare cancerous tumors like Ellie’s.  

“Ellie is always smiling and lights up a room.  She says hi to everyone.  She’s the celebrity and I am her agent.” 

Connect with Brittany at brumeld@gmail.com or on Instagram.com/Brittanycogan, and please visit ellierubyfoundation.org.