With great anticipation, fellow Z-Core members Christopher Fous, Rachel Telfor and I drove to the far out regions of southwest Cape Coral.
“You have to meet this little girl,” we were told by a mutual acquaintance. “She loves zombies and Zombicon, but has never been able to go.”
We walked up to a modest, traditional Cape Coral house, and our knocks were answered by a young man in a Star Wars T-shirt, skullcap and glasses. He welcomed us graciously into his home. Standing in the background wearing a red Walking Dead T-shirt was a beautiful, doe-eyed young girl holding an albino ferret. Talk about instant love!
We said our hellos to her father Justin and he proudly introduced us to his 13 year old daughter McKenna. She, then, introduced us to her strange little pet, Cocoa, an albino ferret. Cocoa, like McKenna, has some issues. Due to Cocoa’s non-pigmentation she’s completely deaf and her piercing ruby eyes are limited in sight. McKenna’s issues, not Cocoa’s, however, were the reason for our visit.
As a beautiful 13-year old girl with a vivacious and infectiously spirited attitude, you’d never know she suffers from a very rare and terminal form of plexiform neurofibromas (of which there is no known cure or treatment plan) and is in constant and debilitating pain. We learned also that, due to her disease, she has been completely home bound for the past few years.
We asked to see her bedroom. Knowing that she has been basically confined to her house for the past few years, we wanted to get an idea of her personality and how she spends her time. We got the instant joy of seeing what a massive zombie fan she truly was. McKenna’s been watching The Walking Dead fanatically with her dad since season one. Her favorite characters (shocker) are Michonne and Daryl and she can’t wait for the spin off which AMC is producing. Walking Dead posters surrounded her room. Her fascination with sugar skulls and her artistic ability was obvious with posters and plaques she’s designed herself. As a typical preteen she embraces all kinds of things: bands like Blood on the Dance Floor, BVD, and Three Days Grace. Touchingly, her all-time favorite is Bob Marley, the first song she fell in love with: “Three Little Birds”. Her mantra: “One Love.”
Upon investigating her room further, reality set in. Her bed is a hospital bed. In the corner, a wheelchair. The small dresser by her bedside was covered in medications, hinting at what she goes through all day, every day. It made our hearts sing and break at the same time. Here is this lovely engaging young teen, who should be gearing up for some of the best years of her life, yet has this hanging over head, invading her life, dreams and future.
McKenna, this awesome, unsteriotypically zombie-crazed young teen has been following ZombiCon for the last several years, always wanting to go. During last year’s event she was out of the state testing a new (but unfortunately unsuccessful) form of chemo therapy. “She’d love to go,” said her father. “We haven’t been able to. It just hasn’t happened.”
We, of course, were there to change that.
Our mission wasn’t just a friendly hello. We were there to present McKenna with full VIP status for Zombicon 2014. “We have something for you,” said Christopher, as he took an official Zombicon dogtag off from around his neck and handed it to McKenna. “We want to make sure you make it to Zombicon this year as our special guest. And we’d like you to help lead the Zombie Walk through downtown.” The look on her face still makes me tear up. We presented her with the rest of what we were able to humbly offer: professional zombie makeup for the event, introductions to the bands, all access for her, her father and her best friend, a custom voodoo-witch costume, and our heartfelt gratitude for being such a fan.
Our other mission that night was espionage. We were scoping out her bedroom. Her birthday was coming up, and had heard through the grapevine that her “dream” was to have a sugar-skull and zombie-themed bedroom. It was, without a doubt, a perfect mission for Pushing Daizies. Our plan was as follows:
1) Send McKenna, her father, and her friend on an all-expense paid trip to Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, including rental van (thank you Enterprise!), hotel (thank you Wyndham Resort!), food (thank you BFit Foods), and spending money (thank you private contributors!).2) While they were away, the Pushing Daizies crew would completely transform her basic bedroom into every 14 year old zombie-lover’s DREAM!
3) When she showed up back home ON her birthday we would suprise her with her dream-come-true.
McKenna and her father, for us and anyone lucky enough to meet them, are inspirations. For a girl so debilitated by terminal illness, and a man who’s life revolves around caring for his terminal daughter, their “never give up” attitude is awe-inspiring. I asked her “What keeps you going? What do you say when the doctors tell you there’s no hope?” Her response with a smile, “Never give up. You can’t give up. You aren’t supposed to. That’s just the way life works. Everything works out, there is no way it can’t. One Love!” Her father smiled and nodded, knowing McKenna just changed all of our lives forever.
* * * UPDATE * * *
Our plan went off without a hitch! McKenna, her father and their family friend had a fantastic time at Halloween Horror Nights, and the Pushing Daizies crew worked furiously to make her room a fantastic transition!