McCrabb: Butler County man wants to make cancer journey easier for families

Cancer attacks more than organs.

Cody O’Connor has seen the destruction cancer can cause. He was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma 10 years ago.

He was a 14-year-old high school freshman, and his diagnosis strained his Butler County family psychologically and financially. His parents were going through a divorce, and they poured all of their time and money toward their son’s cancer. O’Connor remembers months when there wasn’t enough left for the mortgage, let alone groceries.

Each of his parents, who were working full time, eventually filed for bankruptcy in order to continue to provide for themselves and their seven children.

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Now 24 with his cancer in remission, O’Connor has founded Champions Do Overcome, an organization that raises money to pay for these families’ bills, living expenses, and orchestrates activities that will provide respite, he said. Those activities may include sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, dinners, spa days, outdoor activities, museums, zoos, and aquariums.

The funds, O’Connor hopes, alleviate some of the emotional anguish of the situation, increase morale, and allow for a family to be with their loved one throughout the battle.

Cancer to be less stressful if that’s possible.

“Give light to others,” the 2014 Lakota West graduate said. “It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.”

He has raised funds through golf outings, bowling tournaments and walk-a-thons. This year’s fund-raising schedule is expected to be released soon, he said. He generated $1,500 when he walked from his West Chester residence to Cincinnati, and he planned to walk across the United States this year until he lost his major sponsor.

But don’t think that will deter O’Connor.

If he can beat cancer, raising a little cash won’t be a problem.

Diagnosed as a teenager, O’Connor said he didn’t comprehend the seriousness of the cancer. Just spelling Ewing Sarcoma was challenge enough.

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“Cancer,” he thought, “is what old people get.”

He was a standout track athlete and honor roll student at the time and his dream of attending West Point seemed within reach.

“On the path,” O’Connor said. “I was very driven.”

Then he received “a huge shock” when doctors told him his right fibula would have to be removed and he’d probably never walk again without a brace. Initial chemotherapy treatments cost him his hair, but even that didn’t depress him.

“Just a muscular bald guy,” he said with a laugh.

The next round of chemo hit him “like a ton of bricks.” He was home recovering when he touched his eyebrows. There was hair on his fingers. He walked into the bathroom. It wasn’t pretty.

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“I saw what a cancer patient looked him,” he said, the enthusiasm in his voice suddenly void. “For the first time, I thought my life was on the line.”

Cancer-free for nine years, O’Connor is a residential real estate agent with Coldwell Banker West. His cancer is in the rear-view mirror, but he realizes it will forever be part of his future.

When asked what life lessons he learned about himself through his cancer battle, there was a lengthy pause. He searched for the right words: “Always believe,” he said. “Have hope and faith.”

That’s it? Always believe and have hope and faith?

He wanted to make sure his answer was understood.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” he said.

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