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Mount Carmel State Champ Ronan Flaherty Wins Six-Month Fight with Cancer

By Justin Breen | August 19, 2013 8:43am
 Ronan Flaherty, a recent Mount Carmel High School graduate from Oak Forest, recently had a successful recovery from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer is in full remission. Flaherty played football, hockey and rugby for the Caravan.
Ronan Flaherty
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WOODLAWN — Ronan Flaherty said the worst part of having cancer was the boredom.

"My whole life had been going from sport to sport to sport," Flaherty said. "I missed not doing anything."

Flaherty, a recent Mount Carmel High School graduate who played for the Caravan's football, hockey and club rugby teams, won a six-month battle with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Doctors told him the cancer was in full remission a few weeks before his May 26 graduation from Mount Carmel, whose community was inspired by his half-year fight.

"He was able to be positive during the whole thing and never get depressed," said Beverly resident and 2013 Mount Carmel grad Connor Griffin, who will play linebacker at Augustana College in the fall. "He was always strong."

 Ronan Flaherty is shown with and his older brother, Conor, at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Ronan beat cancer after a six-month battle.
Ronan Flaherty is shown with and his older brother, Conor, at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Ronan beat cancer after a six-month battle.
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Ronan Flaherty

Flaherty lost his red hair — it's now growing back dark brown. While undergoing cancer treatments at the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, he ate only once a day. One of the few things he could taste was spicy buffalo wings.

At times, he had mouth sores and could barely talk. On other occasions, he blacked out.

But it was the lack of athletic activity that really drove the 18-year-old nuts.

"I haven't hit anyone since Dec. 16," Flaherty said.

On that day, the Caravan hockey club faced St. Viator, and Flaherty could barely breathe. The defenseman was used to taking 45- to 60-second shifts, but against the Lions, he was reduced to 20-second stints.

"He had to pull himself off the ice," said his father, John Flaherty, a Marist High School graduate. "I told him it shouldn't be this hard, but he said 'let me get to Christmas break, and I'll sleep for a week, and then get back in better shape.' "

Conditioning wasn't the problem. On Dec. 17, Flaherty's pediatrician showed him an X-ray with an 8½-centimeter mass in his chest. A week later on Christmas Eve, he was officially diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Mount Carmel football head coach Frank Lenti knew Flaherty would tackle the disease head on. He had seen Flaherty's determination carry him to a starting inside linebacker position on the Caravan's 2012 Class 8A state champion squad despite the 5-foot-11-inch Oak Forest resident "not being the most athletically gifted player."

"He comes from a family of battlers," said Lenti, citing Flaherty's grandfather, Tom Kurow, a former Caravan hockey head coach who has fought leukemia for several years.

Lenti's brother David, the Caravan's defensive coordinator, said the "whole school rallied around Ronan." The Mount Carmel Fathers' Club created T-shirts with "Team Ronan" on the front and "We've Got Your Back" on the other side. Caravan hockey players' mothers made a green ribbon with a cross, Flaherty's jersey No. 3 and his initials. Flaherty was honored at several events, including the school's "Fight Night".

"Everyone knew about Ronan," David Lenti said. "He had just won a state championship, and with Mount Carmel being such a close-knit school, I'm not surprised from the amount of support he received."

Flaherty's six-month treatment came in three-week increments in which he would miss about eight of 15 school days. Yet he still was able to graduate from Mount Carmel with a 4.1 grade point average while completing three Advanced Placement classes — English, environmental science and calculus — last school year.

Flaherty said he "never thought about dying" during his bout with cancer. Because of the size of the mass and his young age, Flaherty said he was told there was at least an 80 percent chance that the lymphoma would go into full remission.

"Do I feel like I dodged a bullet? No, because I went through it," Flaherty said. "But I guess I did luck out with the type of cancer that I had."

Later this month, Flaherty will begin his next journey at the University of Wisconsin, where he plans to major in engineering.

Flaherty said he'll play club rugby as a "wing forward" for the Badgers, and he hopes to continue his hockey career in some capacity.

In the end, Flaherty said he can't wait for some contact on the ice or field.

"It will be good to get back to normal," he said.