Cancer Sucks. Buy a Helmet.

Oct 08, 2013 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

I am very lucky in the fact that at 41, I have the same group of friends that I have had since 16. And none of those friends may be funnier than our friend, Dan. An Irish Catholic, Dan married a wonderful (see: crazy) woman named Sandy, and they have four children, including a set of Irish twins. For those uninitiated, that's two children born within the same calendar year. To quote Sandy, "I did not see that coming."

Seriously, the stories we have about Dan are the stuff of legend... and stupidity. For instance, once as a teenager, Dan borrowed the family Woody for the night. Remember the station wagons with the wood trim on the sides? Yeah, neither do I. So Dan was driving his home, and he took the turn into the driveway at about 38 MPH. Both front tires exploded on impact. Dan got out of the car and started freaking out. How does he explain this to his parents without either getting grounded, or coming off like a moron? It's about two in the morning at this point, by the way.

So Dan walks into his garage, grabs a hand-full of roofing nails, and throws them in the street right in front of his driveway. And then he went upstairs to pass out.

The next morning, Dan's dad was beyond unthrilled at the sight of the two mangled front wheels on the family grocery getter, not to mention the utterly destroyed chunks of curb that dotted the yard... where the car was still parked. He didn't buy the whole "nails in the street" excuse for popping the tires. We're not sure why.

However, my true impression of Dan changed a little over a decade ago. Dan had just lost his second close relative in the space of about three months. About twenty of us went to the funeral, and we actually saw Dan about to drive away from the church and to the cemetery for the burial. There were tears in his eyes, which I have to say shocked me. I had just never realized that my certifiably insane friend could grieve so hard. We all told him how sorry we were, when he simply said, "Life sucks. Buy a helmet." We all laughed... even Dan. And then he drove away.

I don't know why those words have always stayed with me, but they have. I think of them often whenever my own life is crashing down around me, either by my own making, or by the lives of others close to me. Unfortunately, I've thought of that saying a lot lately... and most recently, yesterday.

About three weeks ago, I had the unique honor to help an amazing group of adults and kids alike in their quest to put a smile on the face of a young girl they loved dearly. My grade school friend Amy called to tell me about a girl in her son's class, MacKenzie. She was in pre-school when she was first diagnosed with cancer... the same year her father died from cancer. She had battled cancer most of her life, and it had taken so much from her, both physically and emotionally.

MacKenzie was on her fourth separate battle with the disease when she finally started getting livid. She had fought and beaten it back into submission so many times, but it always found its way back. And in the latest incarnation, it looked like it had no plans of going anywhere. And it finally got to her.

Amy wanted to do something to cheer her up, so she called and asked me if I would help them shoot a Harlem Shake video just for MacKenzie. I had seen them, but had never made one, so I said that we'd figure it out together. So I started doing research, and I watched the ones that I really liked over and over again for timing, and for ideas on how to make it funny.

And on a Sunday three weeks ago, we filmed it. And it was hilarious. The teachers did one, and then the students. I got a lot of input from Amy, and the final edit was really pretty cool. MacKenzie saw it and loved it, which thrilled me to no end. I mean, what's not to like about seeing one of your teachers holding an umbrella, wearing a yellow rain poncho, while dancing "The Pony" with an inflatable purple donkey between her knees?

I was so happy that we were all able to put a smile on her face. If only for a few moments, we were able to "buy a helmet" for MacKenzie to give her a semblance of laughter and a sea of unconditional love. And it was all wrapped up in one of the goofiest Harlem Shakes you've seen yet.

I only wish she had been able to show her own children eventually. Yesterday, one of the bravest girls you've never heard of... a sixth-grader... succumbed to cancer. It's the second death in less than a month of someone I barely knew, yet had a profound impact on me. And while I'm grieving now, I know that within a day or two, more people will call me saying that either they, or people they love, are in the midst of their own battle with cancer. And while I will always hold a piece of MacKenzie's story with me, I will get to work on helping to buy another helmet for someone else.

I've got quite the collection of figurative helmets now... some I've worn... some I've bought. And yes, it makes me sad to know that my collection will grow. But as long as there's a need...

... I'm buying.

By the way, this is for MacKenzie, and all who love her:

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