Healthy Living

Young Athlete with Hodgkin Lymphoma Gets Back in the Race

Young Athlete with Hodgkin Lymphoma Gets Back in the Race

Young Athlete with Hodgkin Lymphoma Gets Back in the Race

Colleen McConnel was in her prime physical condition when she received unexpected terrible news from her doctor. The young athlete is a college rower who was preparing for a big scrimmage race against rivals at the University of Michigan. The possibility that she had a grave illness was the last thing on her mind.

As a rowing team member and a senior in communications at Michigan State University, Colleen was just like every other young woman enjoying her fruitful years as a college student. Incredibly active and physically strong, she had been a dedicated member of the school's rowing team. The last thing Colleen thought would happen to her was to get seriously sick.

Colleen was blindsided by unexpected news

Yet in 2014, Colleen got unexpected news from the doctor that she had cancer. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, which is cancer that attacks the immune cells in the blood and lymph nodes. Suddenly, her mental preparation and steadfast focus on her upcoming race were broken, blindsided by the shock of being told she had Hodgkin lymphoma.

Otherwise, she was very healthy

Hodgkin's lymphoma is cancer that attacks the immune system, and it's pretty relatively common for this cancer to be diagnosed in young adults, like Colleen. Having cancer at such a young age is really tough, as it's difficult for 20-something-year-olds to grasp the notion of having a serious disease. At that age, mostly your concerns involve school, sports, and what you might want to do for fun that weekend. Cancer is something we most often associate with aging, and definitely not with the youthful exuberance that is a college student. It's the last thing you think of especially when you look at a young, healthy athlete like Colleen.

Colleen was about to embark on the biggest race of her life, the one against cancer

After her diagnosis in 2014, Colleen was dumbfounded by the many questions and unknowns swimming inside her head. Not only was she still to race alongside her teammates the very next day, but she was filled with apprehension about what was to come in the next most important match of her life. As she stepped off the dock to compete in what might have been the last race of her rowing career, her battle against lymphoma was soon to begin.

Chemotherapy required her to drop out of school and stop rowing

Colleen's race against lymphoma was perhaps one of the hardest matches of her life. Chemotherapy required the young woman to take a leave of absence from school because the treatments required her to stay for many days at a time at the Kellogg Cancer Center in Chicago. Colleen missed rowing very much during this time, saying that she didn't feel like herself when she wasn't doing what she loved most.

Despite a hard and arduous battle, Colleen's lymphoma came back

Colleen's strength helped her through the therapy sessions in 2014, but unfortunately, cancer came back with a vengeance. Colleen relapsed in 2015 with recurrent disease and had to go to the University of Chicago Medical Center. There, she received a bone marrow transplant and had to continue more chemotherapy. As if the chemotherapy wasn't hard enough, the transplant put Colleen in the hospital for a total of 50 days. On top of all that, the incredibly active athlete was suddenly bed bound for a total of 100 days.

Read on to learn more about Colleen's hard-fought journey.