Cancer takes back seat to Sunshine Kids

first_imgThey’d already met Jay Leno, visited Disneyland, seen the hit musical “Wicked.” On Thursday, it was time to be sworn in as honorary police officers and cruise Code 3 in two dozen police cars from Sheraton Universal Hotel to Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, where actress Kyra Sedgwick films the TV police drama “The Closer.” “I feel like a movie star,” 13-year-old Ashli Cooper said to her new friend, 17-year-old Hope Schalberg, leaning close so she could be heard over the sirens. Ashli lives in Colorado City in West Texas – population 4,000 – a town so small, she said, there isn’t even a Starbucks. “Heck, you guys have a Starbucks on just about every corner out here,” she said, waving to a group of tourists on Hollywood Boulevard who were taking pictures of the police caravan, figuring somebody important must be going by. There are only two VIPs who get the LAPD’s Code 3 treatment – lights flashing, sirens blaring – when they’re in town on business. The president and the governor. The Los Angeles Police Department added one more to the list on Thursday: the Sunshine Kids. They’re a great group of teenagers from all over the country who are in L.A. for a week of fun after undergoing months of hospital stays and painful chemotherapy treatments to battle the cancer trying to take their young lives. “We love you,” Ashli shouted to them. She lost her right eye to cancer but not her sense of humor. Every time she opened her mouth she said something that had everyone in the police car laughing. “You’re so silly, Ashli, you crack me up,” said Hope, who lives in St. Charles, Mo. This is exactly what volunteers with the nonprofit Sunshine Kids Foundation, which pays for these trips, want for these teens. You can’t put it any better than one Louisiana mother, who wrote the group after her son returned from this same trip last year. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving my son the opportunity to have something that was taken away by cancer – some plain old fun.” Hope’s chemotherapy left her gaunt and bald, but she’s still beautiful when she smiles. And she smiled a lot on Thursday. The girls didn’t know each other before this week, but they quickly developed a close friendship. All 30 kids from different parts of the country did. Having cancer is a powerful bond. “There are only two people who get this kind of treatment – the president and the governor,” LAPD Officer Sean Lewis told them, blowing through another red light as motorcycle officers held up traffic. “Really?” Hope and Ashli said at the same time. “Yeah, really,” Lewis said, smiling as he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the girls high-fiving each other. “Hey, did you see that?” Ashli said, as we drove by a gas station where a limousine was stopped waiting for the police caravan to pass. “That limo driver just flipped us off. That’s not very nice.” Ashli and Hope tried to persuade Lewis to break off from the caravan and take them to the beach, but he didn’t think that would be a good idea. When the Sunshine Kids arrived at the studio, they got out of their police cars, thanked the LAPD reserve officers for the ride, and took pictures with them. “Man, that was so cool,” said Cody Bunnell, 16, from Iowa. “My first airplane ride coming out here and now my first time in a police car, and I wasn’t even in any trouble.” The kids were heading into the studio to see an episode of “The Closer” before lunch when Kimberly Clark, also from Iowa, walked up to Ashli and Hope. “Hey, did you see what that limo driver did?” she asked them. The girls nodded and laughed. And then they laughed some more. For one beautiful week in L.A., cancer was taking a back seat to some plain, old fun for the Sunshine Kids. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more