Not long ago, Connor O’Neil was enjoying a carefree, fun-filled life. He was a second grade student in Ms. Richau’s class at Fricano Primary School. He played football, baseball, lacrosse, and basketball. He loved swimming. He loved bike-riding with his older cousins. He created endless laughter for his little brother, Tanner, who adores and admires his big brother. Connor was an innocent, happy, healthy nine-year-old.
On May 20, 2021, without warning, all of that changed.
After experiencing sudden and debilitating headaches, Connor was admitted to Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York. That night, Connor's parents, Keith and Jill O'Neil, were given news that no parent should ever have to hear...Connor would need emergency surgery to remove what doctors described as a "large cystic tumor" in the back left side of his brain.
The surgery was successful, but to everyone's dismay, this was only the beginning of the story. Following the operation, Connor was diagnosed with a rare, very aggressive form of malignant brain cancer which affects not only the brain but also the spinal column and cerebral fluid.
Transfer to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital
Shortly thereafter, Connor was referred to St. Jude's Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Throughout the first week there Connor underwent numerous procedures and tests including an MRI, port placement, lumbar puncture (spinal tab), CT and PET scans, blood work, and more.
Connor’s cancer, known as a High Grade Mesenchymal and Neuroepithelial Tumor with CIC- DUX4 Fusion, is not only rare but also only recently discovered. In fact, it was just named in 2019 by a pathologist from St. Jude’s. While only a handful of diagnoses have been seen in North America, St. Jude’s has managed more cases than anywhere else in the world.
Surrounded by the best doctors to treat his cancer, Connor began his fight. A follow-up MRI at St. Jude’s showed that the aggressive tumor had regrown in the short time between his first surgery and his arrival at St. Jude’s.
Connor underwent a second surgery to remove the regrown tumor at LaBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis on July 1st. While the surgery was a great success, the only way to beat Connor’s cancer is to start treatment immediately.
On July 8th, Connor began radiation treatment. He will endure radiation five days a week for six weeks straight. Check out the "Connor's Next Milestone" countdown below to stay up-to-date.
Once radiation is complete, Connor's doctor's have recommended at least six to eight months of chemotherapy in Memphis.
The O’Neil & Eddie Families
As you can imagine, this has been a devastating time for the entire O'Neil and Eddie (Jill’s side) families, as well as those around them.
Though they are beyond grateful to be at St. Jude’s, due to Covid, four-year-old Tanner cannot live with the rest of his family at the Ronald McDonald House. One of the greatest expenses they will face is housing and travel costs as they try to keep their family together during this challenging time.
In addition, Jill and Keith are stepping away from their jobs and daily routines in order to care for Connor as he fights with everything he’s got. This means that their income and finances are significantly impacted.
Currently, during radiation treatments, grandparents are taking shifts. They are traveling to Memphis to stay with Tanner as near to the Ronald McDonald House and St. Jude’s as they can be.
Tanner continues to be the amazing brother that he’s always been. He looks up to Connor more than ever before, understanding that his big brother is even more larger-than-life through his battle with this illness. Still, he struggles to understand why they can’t live together as a family, and why Connor is going every day to a place that he can’t even visit.
Becoming a Superhero: #CONNORSTRONG
In the midst of their pain and fight, Jill, Keith, Connor, and Tanner have never been more hopeful and are doing their best to stay #CONNORSTRONG. Now, we - the friends and family of Connor - are calling on #CONNORSTRONG Superheroes like you to help any way you can!
Please check out our "Become a Superhero" section to donate, buy a #CONNORSTRONG bracelet, or to become a volunteer.
And check out our "Events" page for upcoming fundraisers, including "Street Hockey Fest", organized by the Wheatfield Blades Hockey Association, and "Cuts for Connor", hosted by Slawich Cut N' Shave.
Unsurprisingly, they have already received amazing support from the Buffalo community. The O'Neil family greatly appreciates any support and all prayers! Thank you to everyone that has already become a #CONNORSTRONG Superhero!
There are many ways for you to support Connor and become a #CONNORSTRONG Superhero too!
Click the link below to visit Connor's CaringBridge website. The site includes a lot of great information, including updates from Jill and Keith O'Neill.
Receive updates on Connor along with upcoming events