Buffalo Grove firefighters shave heads for colleague fighting cancer
It takes a special kind of courage to be a firefighter.
It also takes courage — although, obviously a different kind — to get one's head shaved.
On Sunday, Buffalo Grove firefighters sacrificed their hair to show their support for a colleague, firefighter/paramedic Ryan McCarthy, 25, who was recently diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer.
They sat in chairs while being sheared by professional hairstylists who donated their time for the fundraiser at Eddie's Restaurant and Lounge, 10 E. Northwest Hwy in Arlington Heights.
The money will be used for McCarthy's prescriptions and treatment, as well as transportation to and from the Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he is undergoing treatment.
Anything raised after that will be devoted to cancer research and especially the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.
Over the next three months, McCarthy will have four intense chemotherapy treatments. He already has received two treatments, he said.
Before Sunday's fundraiser even started, McCarthy said his cousin, Brittany Karalis, already raised $13,000 in donations, on giveforward.com, so the funds raised will all go to the cancer charity.
"Originally, this was going to be a benefit for me, and it looks like we've got enough money. So we're going to pass the funds on to people that need it," McCarthy said.
McCarthy, who lives in Rolling Meadows, has been with the Buffalo Grove department for a year and a half.
"It's one of the dream jobs that I have had since I was a little kid," he said.
But the dream existence was interrupted by a disturbing discovery.
"I had a bump on my head when I was in Montana, and that grew and grew. I finally got it checked out, and after a couple weeks, we found out that it was, in fact, cancer," he said. "They were originally going to remove it, and then it spread a little bit faster than we thought, so I have to do chemotherapy."
The prognosis is positive. The doctor, he said, said he should be in remission after the treatment. By Thanksgiving, he expects to be back on the job.
"It was definitely hard, but I'm trying to keep in good spirits and be strong and keep up with my health so I can fight this and beat it," he said. "When I'm done, I'm going to live life to the fullest and take advantage of every single day for sure."
He has a very special reason to fight: his nearly 2-year-old son, Liam, who could be seen receiving a lot of attention for the crowd gathered at Eddie's.
For the treatments, he said a needle is inserted into a medical port in his body.
"I sit there pretty much all day (while) they infuse five different medications," he said.
There are side effects: nausea, weakness, hair loss and neuropathy in his hands.
Several family members were at Sunday's event, including McCarthy's mother, Margaret Haase, who said the love shown by others has been valuable.
"It has really helped us get through this diagnosis. It just really shakes your world. It has been very helpful to be surrounded by so many people that care," she said.
McCarthy's grandfather, Jerry Howell, also attended the fundraiser.
"I'm very proud of him. He's a positive person," Howell said.
Buffalo Grove Firefighter/Paramedic David Mahan was among McCarthy's colleagues in attendance.
"He's awesome," he said of McCarthy, adding the department would benefit "if we had 50 more like him."
"It's scary, when you're that young, to have something like this come along," Mahan said. "Fortunately for him, it's very treatable, and the survival rate is very good."
Firefighter/Paramedic Brian Steen said he was not looking forward to having his head shaved, but since McCarthy is one of his best friends, he was willing to do it for him.
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