Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Student survives cancer treatment, returns to competition

December 5, 2017
Colleen McConnell was diagnosed with cancer a day before a scrimmage race against the University of Michigan. Despite her diagnosis in 2014, she joined her teammates and participated in what she thought might the last race of her rowing career. Immediately after stepping off the dock she would soon be entering herself in a much different race, against Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. —

Colleen McConnell was diagnosed with cancer a day before a scrimmage race against the University of Michigan. 

Despite her diagnosis in 2014, she joined her teammates and participated in what she thought might the last race of her rowing career. 

Immediately after stepping off the dock she would soon be entering herself in a much different race, against Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. 

"Rowing was a huge part of me and I felt like I lost that," McConnell, a communications senior, said. 

The race against Hodgkin's lymphoma forced McConnell to drop out of school and spend several long days receiving chemotherapy treatment at the Kellogg Cancer Center in Chicago.  

In 2015, McConnell relapsed with the disease and was sent to the University of Chicago Medical Center to have a bone marrow transplant and continue chemotherapy.  The bone marrow transplant kept her in the hospital for 50 days and on bed rest for a total of 100 days. 

The fall 2017 season was the first time McConnell sat in a boat since starting treatment three years ago.  

"Getting to race again it's literally, it's been everything to me, like I feel like myself again," McConnell added. 

Going through two rounds of treatment took a physical and mental toll and McConnell said it has been hard balancing her expectations from before her diagnosis to where she is at now. 

"Trying to navigate not being as good as I was but trying to get back there has been really difficult," McConnell said. 

When McConnell relapsed she received over 200 letters from friends, athletes and coaches from within the MSU community.  

Head Coach Matt Weise said the whole athletic department stepped up to make McConnell know that her presence was not forgotten. While other MSU sports teams sent videos, the rowers wore hats, ribbons and decorated boats to show their support during the racing season. 

Weise said that in his 20 years with the Michigan State rowing program, McConnell is the first athlete that had been diagnosed with cancer to have come back to the team.

"The fact that she is coming back and not just coming back but continuing to get faster and you just watch her confidence grow every day and for me there is nothing that makes me happier as a coach," Weise said. 

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