Colleen was full of energy and spirit from the moment she was born. I often said she never learned to walk….crawling was much too slow, so she went directly to running. She was always climbing…..out of the crib, out of the playpen, then graduating to hills and trees. Our neighbor dubbed her, “Monkey.” Oh so many times I heard, “Don’t break her spirit,” when I was merely trying to keep her from breaking her neck.
She took swimming lessons early because she loved the water and the beach, and was too impatient to bother with a life jacket. A few running leaps into the pool without it convinced us lessons were in order.
Colleen’s beloved dog, Fluffy, went with her on her paper route every afternoon – a paper route that should have taken 30 minutes, but most often took hours. Colleen loved to visit with the “little old ladies” en route, or play a pickup game of basketball, or street hockey with the kids en route, or just chit chat with all the others en route. Fluffy would come home exhausted.
Colleen was energetic and always busy. She loved sports, playing or watching. She always marched to the beat of her own drummer. At age 7, she asked to play T-Ball (then a boys’ game), so we went to sign her up. We were told that if there was a spot, after all the eligible “8 year old boys” had a spot on a team, she could play. And so she did. She played softball right through college. She played basketball, golf, ice skated, skied, rollerbladed, skateboarded, bicycled, snorkeled, scuba dived, rode horses, white water rafted, bicycled down a volcano, swam with a whale, and dove out of airplanes. She had no fear. Until she met a challenge she couldn’t conquer.
Preparing to go back to college in August 1990, we thought it best to check out a “swollen gland” on her neck. The thought of cancer never entered our minds. It entered the mind of her doctor, however, and we were soon on a road no one wants to take.
Colleen had Hodgkins. She underwent staging surgery, and a treatment plan was arranged. Encouraged by one doctor to postpone school, she said “NO!” We worked her schedule around radiation treatments, and on she charged. Declared “cancer free,” she resumed her life. Six months later, a lump appeared on her rib. After hearing all the “highly unlikelies”, we were to learn that it was indeed back. Colleen again endured treatments; this time chemotherapy, and on she charged. She somehow managed to graduate with her class, just as she said she would.
Cancer never deterred Colleen from living and enjoying life. Her motto, “Live Life, Play Hard” was not just a motto, but a lifestyle. She loved the Cape with extended family vacations; she loved Hawaii and all the water sports she could do; but her favorite vacation spot was Disney World, where her itineraries would kill the weak, and wear down the mighty. We all TRIED to keep up, but many times had to rely on relays. Her sister, Christine, actually tried to bring a book to a water park. Be serious!
Through the years, Colleen never let cancer rule her life, but it was always hovering. She gave her vacation time volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with life threatening illnesses, AND their families, because “Cancer affects the whole family.” She spoke at fundraising events. She shared information and counseled those afflicted. Her doctor wrote, “Colleen is an absolutely outstanding individual. She has dealt with her disease, a formidable opponent, with a level of maturity far beyond her years. With tenacity, she confronted the delicate issue of her mortality head on, a daunting task few are able to conquer at any age.”
Colleen went on to live her life, every minute of her life, and was cancer free for 17 years. She met and married her devoted husband, Pete, and had two beautiful, wonderful children in Michael (now age 7) and Jacquelyn (now age 6). She loved them beyond measure, and tried with everything in her to be here for them. Cancer, however, had other plans. Colleen was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in August 2007, and in the fight of her life. A fight she would lose. The fight was hers, but the loss is ours.
I love you Colleen,
This blog was written by Colleen O’ Farrell’s mother Joan Horan