By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/12/17
Kathleen O’Connor sounds a lot like Nick Colleluori when she describes her new perspective on life after successfully fighting Hodgkins Lymphoma.
“I don’t get stressed thinking about the little things or something so random,” said the Villanova University junior midfielder from Oak Knoll School (N.J.). “There are so many other people so much worse off that I saw in the hospital (Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania).”
O’Connor was joined by Villanova head coach Julie Young and one of her junior teammates, Tara DeAngelo on Friday to celebrate her indomitable spirit, one that led to her being honored as the Nicholas E. Colleluori Award winner at the HEADstrong Foundation’s 7th Annual Lime Light Gala at the Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing.
Proceeds from the Lime Light Gala will support the expansion of Nick’s House™, a family-home operated by the HEADstrong Foundation which provides complimentary extended lodging to families displaced to the Greater Philadelphia Region seeking comprehensive cancer care.
The sold-out crowd if 450 was treated to a special evening, featuring Magician and Survivor Chad Juros, singer-songwriter and lacrosse great Michael Powell, singer and three-time cancer survivor Jessy Kyle.
Other major honorees were Eli Glatstein, MD Vice Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology and Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who earned the HEADstrong Achievement Award; and David Calvaresi, founder of Concordia Valsource LLC, who earned the HEADstrong Relentless Spirit Award.
The Masters of Ceremony were Steve Morrison, of 93.3FM WMMR Preston & Steve Show; and Michael Cirigliano, MD, of Penn Medicine, and a Fox 29 Medical Correspondent.
O’Connor undertook 3 months of aggressive chemotherapy as part of a new strategy to fight Lymphoma with drugs typically used for patients suffering from cancer relapses. She had to endure six rounds of five days of chemo treatments, but is now in remission and back at school full-time. O’Connor’s forecast is excellent, given her positive reaction to the treatments and superb physical conditioning.
“It was mentally tough the whole time but I was saying to mother that if I didn’t play lacrosse and wasn’t so mentally tough it would be harder to go through this day to day,” said O’Connor, who started as a sophomore. “When I told them (her teammates, about her diagnosis) it was the most heartbreaking thing I had to deliver.
“But they were confident in me and that helped me push through. I come back to school whenever I could, just to hang out and be around them. They have been so supportive; they made t-shirts and headbands and sent me cards. I would fall back on them, especially when I was having a hard day.”
O’Connor’s fight began in early September last year when she felt pain in her chest during a team workout just after Labor Day. Her lymph node became swollen and she was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 12 and later found to have Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. Because she was in such good physical condition, doctors quickly began the aggressive approach in October.
Young (Germantown Academy graduate) said O’Connor will get scans every 3 months to make sure the cancer does not return. The Wildcats will host Cincinnati on March 26 and honor O’Connor in a HEADstrong fundraising contest.
“What amazes me the most about Kathleen is that if you looked at her from the outside there doesn’t seem anything different about her,” said Young. “She is the same funny person. She is the youngest of five and a tough kid. She is a kid that likes to joke around; in terms of personality, she is the same.”
O’Connor said she had to find ways to stay upbeat when the treatments became more intensive each week.
“The first couple of weeks (of treatments) weren’t so terrible because my body was strong from being an athlete so I thought, ‘Oh this isn’t so bad.'” she said. ‘Then I got some fevers fevers and by the third round my body was beat down. I would go for 5 days, but knowing I could leave and go home for a week and having so many visitors every day really broke the day up from laying there all day.”
DeAngelo said O’Connor has accepted the challenge of beating the disease and become a role model to the team and anyone who knows her story.
“If this had happened, this was the person,” said DeAngelo. “She is the most outgoing person and the best fighter and she showed us that if life throws you an obstacle you don’t let it be an obstacle.
“She has showed us how to fight and be strong. I have never been more proud of a friend. It is incredible what she had to face, but she never let a smile leave her face, even on the worst days.
“The team has made a lot of trips to the hospital. Five days is a long time. We made a box for all the letters – not just get well letters – but some were funny things or other things about life, just to take her mind off things. We reached out to friends at home and it made us realize how many people were behind her.
“When you realized that this (chemo treatments) was her life for 5 days, it’s really hard. It gave us a perspective and an appreciation for what each day holds as a college athlete.”
How did it feel for the Villanova contingent to see O’Connor honored by the HEADstrong Foundation?
“She was so excited; it’s a huge honor and we are so happy to be here,” said DeAngelo. “This brings everything full circle. We realize how much bigger the community is and how much together everyone is for her. She is not alone; there is a sense of strength and hope for everyone.”