Unlikely Friends Find Bond In Cancer Battle, Firefighting

Pa. teen and Mass. fireman lean on each other to conquer rare forms of cancer

Heroes know no age. That's very clear in the unlikely friendship between a Pennsylvania teen and a Massachusetts firefighter.

Marissa Fabiszewski and Dan O'Connell first met inside Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston during treatments for aggressive forms of cancer.

"Literally she would comfort me," Dan said. "You know, I'm a ex-marine, big tough firefighter… full-time firefighter guy and she would give me a hug and say 'It's gonna be OK.'"

The petite 16-year-old was undergoing proton beam treatment for a rare brain tumor when she took notice of the never-ending entourage visiting the middle-aged firefighter nicknamed Flippy.

His real name is Dan, a 42-year-old former marine and career fireman. He was also undergoing treatment for a rare cancer called Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma. And it wasn't long before the teen and ex-marine leaned on each other as they battled with their own bodies to stay alive.

"I think we really helped each other," she said. "We gave each other a little boost when one another needed it."

As the two traversed their treatments, the Maple Glen, Pa. teen became inspired by firefighting. Not just the thrill of making a difference, but the love and support of the fire company.

So with seven weeks of treatment under her belt, Marissa came back to Pennsylvania and joined the Wissahickon Fire Company's Youth Fire Camp.

Over the month of July, the teen learned how to fight fires, throw up ladders and even use the JAWS of Life. Her training was capped off Tuesday night with a final test and ceremony at the Ambler firehouse.

She showed off her skills with ease, but didn't realize who would be just behind an idling engine in the lot -- Dan.

Her inspiration drove down from The Cape with a few fellow firefighters to congratulate Marissa on her achievement.

"I was very surprised," the teen said after embracing her buddy. "So it's exciting."

Dan echoed those emotions saying the reunion "made his month."

"You can't put it into words," he said. "We traveled from Massachusetts with smiles on our faces the whole time."

Dan also didn't come empty handed. He presented Marissa with her own, custom-made Flyers fire helmet -- a big feat for a hardcore Bruins fan.

While they've come so far, both know they've still got a long road ahead to becoming cancer-free.

But Dan and Marissa know their friendship is one fire that will keep them burning as they continue to fight.

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