SPRING HILL — This Saturday's Halloween Horrorball came so close to being canceled.
The fundraiser for the American Cancer Society is also 12-year-old Megan Means' Pay it Forward seventh-grade class project, which she planned with the help of her mother, Andrea Means-Montmarquet, 42.
Megan wants to help the organization in honor of her mother, who is battling ovarian cancer, which recently returned after a short remission. But rather than raise money to help her own family as they deal with the crushing fears and financial woes that often accompany major illnesses, Megan chose to help other families touched by cancer.
In short, she wants to pay it forward.
But just last week, Andrea was rushed to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa after losing her vision. She has been receiving outpatient chemotherapy and was told this neurological side effect may be a result of drug complications or the cancer itself.
"I was going to cancel (the dance)," says Doug Montmarquet, 53, Megan's stepfather, who is chronically ill himself and waiting on a lung transplant.
But then family, friends and strangers began to pay it forward themselves, pitching in to help Megan help others.
Andrea's best friend Tara Mahoney, 34, says she got a woeful call last Friday evening. Andrea said she was trying to help Megan but felt she was too sick to do so.
"It broke my heart," said Mahoney. "I just told her 'You and Doug don't worry about a thing.' From there, everyone started jumping in."
Mahoney already was donating decorations from her Halloween online eBay business known as Custom Corpse. Her 7-year-old daughter Kaylie donated her tooth fairy money and sold lemonade to add to the funds.
Friends and family picked up tasks begun by Megan and Andrea, yet left hanging due to Andrea's illness. They helped Megan follow up on donation requests to area businesses, drive her around to pick up supplies, firm up the hall reservation, create games, and solicit raffle prizes.
Megan attends the Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology, where the entire 44-member seventh-grade class is required to develop a community service project focused on making a difference. Social studies teacher Gina De Bello modeled the Pay it Forward project after the 2000 movie of the same name starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt.
"I told the students to pick something that touches you, something that's dear to your heart," she said.
"The community's tax base supports our school, and we need to give back. Our students need to learn the importance of giving to others," said Joseph Gatti, GCA director of curriculum and instruction.
Megan's classmates have been washing cars, volunteering at the ASPCA and raising money for charities such as the American Diabetes Association and National Association for Down's Syndrome.
Megan says she knew she wanted to help the American Cancer Society after participating in last spring's Relay for Life. Her mother came up with the idea of a Halloween dance.
"My mom and I walked the 'survivor lap' together because she was in remission then, it was a really special time," said Megan.
Many of those who have volunteered to help Megan say they have been really moved by her project. Cindy Watson, 35, said she decided to pay it forward by paying the toll of the car driving behind her on the Suncoast Expressway.
"Megan's spirit has inspired me," said Watson.
The company she works for, Quick Search Investigations, owned by Tom Mahoney, Tara's brother, donated the DJ for the Horrorball and she's garnered donations from other local businesses such as Papa Clyde's Ice Cream, Electric Beach Nail and Tanning Salon and Gino's Place-Hot Dogs, Paninis and More.
"Everyone has pitched in, we are so grateful," said Doug Montmarquet.
"We're all praying very hard," said Megan's grandmother Teresa Allcock. She's been helping Doug care for Megan and her stepsister Honor, 11. Between visiting her daughter Andrea at Moffitt, taking care of the girls, and helping Doug, she baked cupcakes, cookies and brownies to raise money for the hall rental.
For the Halloween Horrorball, Megan's goal is to donate $200 to the American Cancer Society.
"I really commend Megan, she's going through a lot," said De Bello. "She just puts on that smile and gets through the day."