Game Hair Havoc Chronicles: Kathleen O’Connor

Kathleen O’Connor gained 30 sisters when she joined the Villanova Women’s Lacrosse team. She described her experience there as priceless and the lessons she learned both in the classroom and on the lacrosse field would help her in a way she could have never imagined. Those 30 sisters would become her life line, her motivation and her support system to help her through one of the toughest chapters in her life. Her next opponent wouldn’t be on the lacrosse field, but in a hospital room, up against the biggest opponent of her life: A cancer diagnosis. 

Shortly, after moving into her off campus apartment her junior year, Kathleen started to experience shoulder pain and low grade fevers. After countless trips to the team trainer and physician, followed by numerous tests and scans she finally had an answer as to what was going on. Kathleen was called into Dr. Duncan’s office where he told her the radiologist had some concerns about her scans. “One is that it could be some sort of lung infection. The other is possibility was lymphoma. I didn’t even know what lymphoma was at this point.” said Kathleen.

The next day Kathleen and her mom went to Bryn Mawr Hospital where she would be officially diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. She immediately started outpatient treatment every 2 weeks. “But once the final results came in, we learned of a clinical trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). This treatment would call for 5 days of inpatient chemotherapy followed by 14 days off then I would repeat this cycle 6 times. I began treatment in October and finished at the end of January 2017.“ remarked Kathleen. 

Instead of going out and having fun like a newly-established 21 year old does, Kathleen spent her weekends hooked up to machines that were administering life saving treatment. Her course of treatment was very intense as doctors said she received a year’s worth of chemo in 4.5 months. 

“I was just about to turn 21 when I was diagnosed, was living off-campus with all of my friends and I had to take an entire semester off and wasn’t able to do what a normal kid gets to do. That was the hardest part of this whole journey.“ she said 

Kathleen went into remission after her second treatment in mid-November and was able to return back to school after Christmas break and get back into her senior year.  Getting back into the swing of school gave her a sense of normalcy that she so desperately wanted. However, it wouldn’t last for long. The cancer had relapsed and she was faced with a huge decision. Would she undergo a stem cell transplant or forgo the recommended treatment and finish out her senior lacrosse season?  

“I wanted to finish school and be able to play lacrosse so I was given an immunotherapy drug. I went into remission again in April of 2018, and played through my lacrosse season and graduated on time.” she said. 

Following graduation, Kathleen moved back to her hometown of New Vernon, NJ then to Hoboken, NJ where she would continue her treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. Since college lacrosse was over, she decided to move forward with the stem cell transplant. She was admitted on November 6th 2018 and would spend the next 19 days in a hospital bed. 

“One of the craziest parts about this whole second half of my journey was that my boyfriend, Danny Seibel, who also played lacrosse for Villanova was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma right before I went into the hospital for my stem cell. Obviously both of us had great support systems but it was a very tough time in our lives.  I couldn’t go in public, eat any outside food and had many restrictions.” remarked Kathleen. 

Kathleen has been in remission since 2018 and has regular checkups at her doctor every 3 months. She now lives in New York with her sister and a friend and works at Authentic Brands Group doing Digital Marketing/Social Media. 

Since stepping foot into the Villanova Women’s Lacrosse locker room, the mission of HEADstrong has been at the forefront of everything the team does. From participating in Fall Ball Events and Tournaments, to Going Lime and wearing the shoe laces, HEADstrong’s presence was known from the start. “I first got involved with HEADstrong my freshman year at Villanova, and that is where I first learned about Nick’s story and HEADstrong’s mission.” she said.

Kathleen would become even more involved with the foundation after she told the Colleluori’s about her battle with cancer. Her story was compelling and so truly resonated with the Colleluori family that they named Kathleen the recipient of the 2017 Nicholas E. Colleluori award at the Limelight Gala, truly the highest recognition possible at the foundation. “I am so grateful for this Foundation and that I am able to be a part of it.”she remarked. 

Get Stylin’ this Spring and sign up for Game Hair Havoc to help support those affected by cancer, just like Kathleen. Inspire your teammates to join in on the havoc and show off your crazy game day hairstyles. It can make a meaningful impact on those who need it the most. Learn more about Game Hair Havoc by clicking here.