As many of you know, my friend Jeff has been battling ALS for eight years. I won’t be surprised if he fights it until researchers find a cure. When he was diagnosed, doctors told him he’d live about three years, which is how long the majority of people with ALS survive. Jeff continues to beat the odds. You may recall when I wrote about our trip to see Ellen seven years ago.
About a year ago, he lost the last of his physical abilities, including his ability to speak. He still has use of his eyes though, so he uses Tobii Dynavox to text and announce his words. That’s Jeff in the Tobii ad. Given his personality and spirit, it’s no surprise he was offered a job as the Tobii spokesperson.
Sadly, Jeff is in the hospital with pneumonia. He texted me last night to send him an old video of us at summer camp to cheer him up. I sent him the video, but I thought it might also cheer him up if I surprise him with this note to remind him how much he means to people.
When I think of the most inspiring people I know, I think of Jeff. He’s a hugely talented musician and basketball player, the funniest guy I’ve ever known, and he makes such an impact on the children he mentors and coaches. But I most admire Jeff’s ability to stay positive throughout the time he has fought this disease. He followed his path before ALS, but he has been living his life even more fully since he was diagnosed. And if life is measured by the number of lives we impact, Jeff has lived such a full life. I have so much respect for his resilience and optimism in the face of unthinkable challenges.
I’ve never laughed with someone more than I’ve laughed with Jeff. Jeff and I found reality shows so silly, so we talked about starting our own to poke fun at them. I suggested a sequel to The Odd Couple because we’re such opposites. Jeff collected sneakers, hats, vinyl, feasted on Cap’n Crunch, slept late, and, well, I didn’t. But we connected in so many other ways–and he remains the best friend I’ve ever had.
We finally settled on a show idea. We’d walk into bars, malls, and other populated venues. Fake paparazzi would follow us and snap photos. We’d act annoyed by the attention. People would try to identify us. Hidden cameras would film their excitement and confusion. We’d generate huge crowds over nothing. We’d call the show The Fakers. We talked about it often and we couldn’t get enough of it.
Around the time we were planning the show, I met Jeff for dinner. He told me he was feeling a strange tingling sensation in his arm. Doctors struggled to diagnose it until finally, they identified it. I was in awe of Jeff’s strength out of the gate. I never saw him feel sorry for himself from the moment he found out he had ALS, so I’m not surprised he has endured.
We never got a chance to pitch the show, but the irony is that Jeff literally became famous.
We continue to hope for a cure. There are so many people rooting for Jeff. Maybe it will cheer him up to know that he has been cheering up thousands of people the past eight years.
Keep fighting, Speed Racer. You’re no faker.