I am excited to be writing for a new, local magazine, Upper Providence Living. As the Content Coordinator, I have the privilege of meeting and interviewing people in the community. I am reminded with every interview that everyone has a story and sharing that story is a gift for all who get to hear it. I wanted to share the cover article from the October issue because this story was an important reminder that life can change in an instant, but with the support of family and friends, people can survive the unthinkable.
The McKenna family experienced an unthinkable tragedy. On March 5, 2011, Maureen and Tim McKenna’s son Conor passed away after a courageous 19 month battle with a rare cancer, angiosarcoma. Despite every obstacle placed in Conor’s way, he proved to the Upper Providence Community what his family and close friends already knew; that he was filled with a unique spirit and an overwhelming amount of strength.
The courage, passion and perseverance that Conor displayed, are the traits that left imprints on the hearts of his family, friends and the community.
Conor isn’t remembered for having cancer, he is remembered for the type of person he was as he faced adversity and leaves all who hear his story to ponder on the man he would have become.
In the face of such heartbreak, a family could be shattered forever, but the McKennas have turned their heartbreaking loss into an opportunity to give back. With the love and support of the Upper Providence community, the McKennas are keeping the memory of their adored son Conor, alive. Through the establishment of the Conor McKenna Foundation, they have vowed to make a difference in a high school student’s future in higher education because of the lessons they learned from Conor during his unimaginable trial.
In August of 2009, Conor (14) complained of having pain in his arm. As an athlete, whose life was baseball, Maureen explains that she took him to their family doctor and within two weeks he was diagnosed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) with cancer. Maureen shares that Conor was quick to question the doctor about his imminent return to the baseball field. Baseball was his passion.
Maureen emotionally reminisces how quickly the events unfolded. “After diagnosis, he had an open-heart surgery to remove the tumor. The surgery was successful, but the tumor had metastasized to his shoulder and his rib. After two rounds of chemo, the doctors removed the top part of his shoulder. He finished with chemo in February of 2010 and was considered in remission.”
Unfortunately, the promise of follow-up PET scans every three months at CHOP didn’t last long. Sadly Maureen reveals “Two weeks later, after the final scan was reevaluated, we received news that the cancer was still there and he needed to continue chemo.” Conor showed yet again how determined he was.
Maureen describes Conor as being amazing and it is evident because he faced his adversity head on. “During this time he went to school. He wasn’t able to play baseball because of his arm, but he worked tirelessly at learning how to hold the glove with his other hand and pitch without the use of his right arm. Conor was a left handed pitcher and the surgery was in his right arm. He was part of Junior Legion summer baseball team and attended every practice and game despite being unable to play. In the fall he played Fall Babe Ruth and got on the field to pitch and hit the ball regardless of the cancer in his body.” He truly showed his perseverance to all who knew him. He didn’t let cancer dictate the goals he set for himself. He played baseball again!
Even though Conor lost his battle with cancer, his memory is kept alive by the The Conor McKenna Foundation (CM35). Every year, the foundation awards the Conor McKenna Courage Award Scholarship to a member of the senior class in the Spring-Ford Area School District. The award recipient must be attending a 2 or 4 year school upon graduation. Maureen explains “the school puts the scholarship information in Naviance (an online college/career website) and kids can go online and see what scholarships they want to apply for. They can apply for ours and write an essay about their adversity and how they are courageous in their fight. We have realized that teenagers are fighting lots of different battles. We want to recognize their courage and perseverance.”
As a family, Maureen, Tim and Conor’s younger siblings, Evan, Quinn and Mary Pat sit and read all of the applications the senior high school students submit. In the 5 years since the scholarship has been given the McKennas have always come to the same conclusion as to what applicant “exhibits tremendous courage and strength in their lives just as Conor did in his fight.” Every year the scholarship gives a senior in high school the assistance they need to further their education.
Giving back in Conor’s memory and helping a student who has gone through something similar is the goal that the McKennas have when reading the applications and finding the right student to be awarded the scholarship. Maureen expresses that we have “hit it on the head each time. We have awarded the scholarship to students who have battled with a disease, dealt with the loss of a parent, or overcome bullying. These students are still fighting and most importantly going to school and they will continue to go to school.”
While Conor was fighting cancer, he was also fighting to go to school and live a normal life. The McKennas want to recognize students with the same drive. His siblings value the importance of education just as much as he did. Maureen shares “that is what our family is about and that is what the foundation is based on.”
Maureen recalls the support they received from the community during Conor’s illness and is so humbled by the fact that the community continues to rally for Conor. “People helped us with our three other kids. We tried to keep our lives as normal as possible. That is what Conor wanted. We tried to live every day just like everyone else.”
One example of how the community showed their support was during Spring-Ford’s Homecoming weekend in 2011 when the CM35 Run for Courage event was founded. Maureen tells that “with a couple of friends and family we pulled it off and since then we have had so much support by people coming to walk and through sponsors. We have continued to raise the money every year to award the scholarship.” The monies raised from the 5K are what contributed to the scholarship first being awarded to a senior in Conor’s graduating class, the Class of 2013. The foundation was able to award two scholarships during that most memorable year.
The Run for Courage is still an important part of Homecoming weekend. Maureen is astounded that “just last year the Powder Puff Football Team played a game the night before Homecoming and chose Conor’s foundation to receive the money earned. That was a scholarship right there. The community still rallies around us and our kids. The school helps to keep it going. I couldn’t ask for a better community.”
The people who truly knew Conor will never forget him. Because of this, the family will be able to award the scholarship for years to come. “Our goal was to award the scholarship until next year when our daughter, Mary Pat graduates and we have definitely surpassed that goal.”
Maureen shares that Conor never wanted to be the center of attention. Through his heroic battle though, the community did watch as a courageous teenager never gave up. Because of the strength that Conor displayed, he is continuing to have an impact on so many.
Please come out and participate in the CM35 Run for Courage on Saturday, October 14 at 9am at Spring-Ford High School. For more information visit cm35.org