Sophie Roberts, 10, center, one of McKenna Claire Wetzel's best friends, makes a sign with other close friends and family for the lemonade stands they will set up Sunday. Last year, McKenna, 7, died from a brain tumor. Her family and friends hope to raise awareness for brain cancer research with process from the stands. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / July 31, 2012)

They were Katie Sparks and McKenna Wetzel, the I-Don't-Know-and-I-Don't-Care Girls.

If the Eader Elementary School classmates got a question that they didn't have a passionate answer to, those were their typical replies. McKenna's mother, Kristine Wetzel, might ask what they wanted to do that afternoon or where they felt like going, and she could often predict the answer — so much so that she anointed them both with a nickname.

"That was their reply to everything," Wetzel said. "Katie was 'I don't know,' and McKenna was 'I don't care.'"

For McKenna, that apathy resided largely on the surface. The Huntington Beach resident developed a love of philanthropy early in life and often donated proceeds to charity from the lemonade stands she set up on the corner near her house.

A year ago, McKenna died of a brain tumor at the age of 7. And this weekend, her friend is honoring the legacy of the I-Don't-Know-and-I-Don't-Care Girls with an act of decisiveness and empathy.

Katie, 9, joined nearly a dozen friends Tuesday afternoon to paint signs for a pair of lemonade stands to benefit the McKenna Claire Foundation, which the Wetzels set up in October to fund brain cancer research. The stands, one of which may go up on McKenna's favorite corner at Polynesian Lane and Bobbie Circle, will operate on what would have been her ninth birthday Sunday.

Moreover, they won't be the only two stands. The foundation, which has donated all its proceeds so far to a research team at Stanford University, has called on people worldwide to set up stands on Sunday and divert the proceeds to a charity of their choice.

"People seem to gravitate toward the foundation, and then they take it in a whole new direction," said Dave Wetzel, McKenna's father. "It shows you the effect one little girl can have on people."


A short, blessed life

McKenna Claire Wetzel came into the world Aug. 5, 2003, after her mother endured six months of bed rest. That rest proved to be the last calm for awhile; with both parents working and McKenna and her older sister, Jordan, engaged in sports and other endeavors, the Wetzel home always seemed to be on the go.

Still, amid all the activity, the Wetzels could see that their younger daughter was more than a hyperactive child.

With Jordan, Katie and other friends as her accomplices, McKenna got the enterprise bug early on. One of her favorite pastimes was to paint signs, set up a table on the corner and sell lemonade and sweets to passersby. Sometimes, she and her partners kept the proceeds, but other times, they forwarded them to Children's Hospital of Orange County, the Orange County Humane Society and other groups.

Then, in January of last year, McKenna began having health woes of her own. She promptly found herself on the receiving end of that charity.

At first, the Wetzels thought she had the flu, but when she began throwing up violently and developed a wandering eye, she underwent a CT scan that showed a mass growing on her brainstem. Doctors soon diagnosed it as an incurable form of brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, better known as DIPG, and gave her no more than 18 months to live.

While McKenna was out of school, a group of friends created the Tuesday Homework Club to keep her up to date with homework. Even after she returned to Eader, they continued to meet every Tuesday at a different member's house to study and socialize.

True to her nickname, McKenna didn't much care where the group gathered — the camaraderie was enough for her. In between school and treatments, she lived what her parents call "a rock star life," vacationing to Hawaii and Las Vegas, sitting on the floor at a Lakers game and attending tapings of"American Idol"and "Dancing with the Stars."

By June, her condition appeared to be improving; tests showed that the tumor had shrunk. Within weeks, though, it had grown again, and McKenna gradually lost her ability to move, talk and swallow. Her body eventually gave out July 21, two weeks before her eighth birthday.


Making a stand