NH firefighters shave heads for colleague with cancer

The department held a head-shaving event to raise money for the firefighter's treatments and to unite in solidarity

By Kiera Blessing
The Eagle-Tribune

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — The O’Brien family has been serving the Fire Department for generations.

Zach, 22, is the youngest in the bloodline to join the department, following both his maternal and paternal grandfathers and his dad, Chief Darren O’Brien.

So when Zach was diagnosed with cancer in February, the department was quick to mobilize.

Londonderry firefighters held a head-shaving event Monday afternoon to raise money for Zach’s treatments and to unite in solidarity with the young recruit.

The event raised more than $11,000, prompting even Police Chief William Hart, Town Manager Kevin Smith and Town Treasurer Kathy Wagner to sport new hairstyles.

“It’s a horrible disease for anybody to go through, so we’re trying to let him know that he’s not alone and he’s got a lot of people standing by him,” Battalion Chief Mike McQuillen said.

“To have to lose your hair as a result of this is troubling and you look at it every day,” McQuillen added. “So if you have a couple of comical characters that you work with — I mean, we’re gonna be pretty ugly mugs when this is all done — and he gets to look at them, it takes the light off of him a little bit.”

In December, Zach saw a doctor about a lump on his neck. It was diagnosed as a simple swollen lymph node, for which Zach could take medication.

About two months later, when the same spot on his neck began to hurt, Zach saw a doctor again.

He was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare type of cancer that attacks the immune system. It is most common in people between the ages of 55 and 84.

“It’s definitely nothing you expect at 22, but it’s one of those things where you just kind of go with the punches,” Zach said. “It’s just been pedal to the metal trying to kill it, trying to get it out of my body. That’s all I want.”

Dozens of firefighters, police officers, friends and family members gathered in the department’s garage Monday to have their heads shaved.

Zach’s aunt, Donna Hicks, recruited hairdressers from her salon to volunteer their time and shaving skills, while barbers from Anthony’s Barber Shop got in on the action pro-bono, too.

Even some childhood friends of Zach and his longtime girlfriend, Sarah Henault, were there in support.

Most of the men who went under the razor got a simple shave while others went all out — one shaved off his eyebrows while another got a cancer ribbon on the back of his head.

“I’m glad I brought a hat because that breeze is scary,” joked a newly bald Joe Kelly, 21, Zach’s friend since high school.

Zach’s mother and grandmother were at the event selling T-shirts that read “O’Brien Strong.”

“Today, today and tomorrow, tomorrow,” said Yvette Hicks, Zach’s grandmother. Hicks lost her husband to cancer 11 years ago.

“It’s all you can do,” she said.

Zach and his parents said they have been blown away by the support from friends and strangers alike.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Chief Darren O’Brien said. “The support we’ve seen throughout this process has been second to none.”

“We couldn’t ask for a better group of people,” added Doreen, Zach’s mother. “When you need something, they are a second family.”

Zach said he hopes to have a long, healthy career in Londonderry.

“This is my forever place, so I’m hoping to do what my dad did — have a long, healthy 30-plus years here. That’s my goal,” he said. “It’s a great bunch of guys and I love them to pieces.”

Copyright 2016 The Eagle-Tribune 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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