Battling Childhood Cancer and Making a Difference

By: 
Morgan O'Hare '16 and Colin Dowd '16

We are taking part in the St. Lawrence Pre-Health Club’s fourth annual ‘Clips for Cancer’ on Saturday, Feb. 22 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. in the Winston Room. The money we all raise will help us reach our fundraising goal of $15,000. Read our stories and why this event is so important to us. We hope you'll give to our cause.

Morgan O’Hare ’16

I have one eye. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare childhood cancer of the retina found primarily in children under the age of five. Parents usually take a lot of pictures of their children and mine were no different. But in many pictures of my sister and me, something was off. My parents often noticed a white shadow in my left pupil. They took me to our doctor and soon after, I was sent to Will’s Eye in Philadelphia and under the great care of Dr. Jerry and Carol Shields, I underwent an enucleation surgery to remove the tumor they discovered from my eye. 

Many parts of my experience are fuzzy, but I remember eating chocolate ice cream and watching Babe with my parents at my side while my mom was singing “Please don’t take my sunshine away” with tears in her eyes.  Fortunately, the surgery was a success and after a prolonged and severe swelling, I was able to get my first prosthetic. The surgery did not save my sight, but it has shaped the vision I have for becoming involved in the medical field to help other children battling cancer.

Since my sophomore year in high school, I have volunteered at the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany (NABA), a not-for-profit organization that offers services to assist and encourage individuals of the community to live more independently with their vision loss. At NABA, I have enjoyed working with blind and visually-impaired children and teens during school breaks. As a mentor, aside from teaching rehabilitation techniques and practices in the programs, I encourage them to be open to the many opportunities life has to offer. While teaching them important life lessons, they have taught me how to be positive in my own life. Working with children has made me more confident and has inspired me to view my visual impairment as a strength rather than a weakness.

Although I am here at St. Lawrence most of the time and unable to be present at NABA, fundraising for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation with the endless support of my family and friends reminds me that everything I can do to help makes a difference.  I chose to participate in the Pre-Health Club’s Clips for Cancer event this year so that I could give back to children who are fighting cancer every day. The SLU community has supported me in every way since I got here and it’s no surprise that it stands behind me and the others fundraising and heightening awareness this week.

Colin Dowd ’16

I am a childhood cancer survivor. At age 17, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer so rare even my team of doctors didn’t have a name for it. Ever since that day when the doctors uttered the scary words “You have cancer,” my life has changed in ways I could never imagine.

Two months before my 18th birthday, I became a proud patient of Boston Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic. I underwent surgery to remove the malignant tumor from my lung in the hands of the Chief of Surgery at Boston Children’s. I thought the surgery was the only procedure I was going to need, but my journey was far from over. A month after surgery my doctors sat me and my family down and said my best possible chance to make sure all the cancer was out of my body was to undergo a treatment plan that would include eight rounds of chemotherapy and 31 days of radiation.

There was no time to ask myself why this was happening to me. From the day I was diagnosed, I knew my only chance at surviving and beating this dreadful disease was to stay positive and look at it as just a speed bump in life and believe that eventually I would be back to normal.

While I was nearing the end of my treatment, a speaker by the name of Chris Waddell came to my high school (Suffield Academy in Connecticut) to talk with all students. One of his quotes has stuck with me ever since: “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.” This is how I have looked at my story because even though I am a cancer survivor today (I am currently more than three years off-therapy and in remission!), I know it’s time to give back. I am devoted to helping others battle cancer in any way possible.

I was first introduced the St. Baldrick’s Foundation when I was going through treatment and one of my parents’ coworkers was participating in a St. Baldrick’s event in honor of me. What makes this foundation so special to me is all the money goes to childhood cancer research and my hope is that one day doctors can figure out more about my rare form of cancer. This is the second year I’m raising money and shaving my head in honor of children battling cancer. I’m even more excited to shave my head this year than last because of all the generous people who are helping me raise money for this foundation. Every time I see a new donation I immediately am brought back to my days at Boston Children’s Hospital and The Jimmy Fund Clinic going through all my treatments and surgery.

I am committed to staying involved with St. Baldrick’s and participating in fundraising events for many years to come. Just in the last two years my team here at St. Lawrence, “Saints for a Cure,” has raised over $8,000 for St. Baldrick’s. For this childhood cancer survivor, words can’t express what this support has meant to me.