By Jennifer Manolakis
She was the “picture of health” on the surface, but underneath the long blonde hair, radiant smile and kind eye was anything but the TV’s version of wellbeing. It was pain; it was fear; it was Cystic Fibrosis. But while the fear may have bubbled beneath the surface, Caitlyn was a vibrant energy of positivity and light. You didn’t look at her and see a human in the throes of a chronic health condition, you saw a regular, hard working person who filled your day with laughter and hope.
Caitlyn was my coworker at CDIA at Boston University, and my friend. We shared an office together and connected on so many levels. She had a beautiful soul that was admirable. Caitlyn passed away in 2016. Since December 2016 I have followed her mother’s blog (9livesnotes.com) as she would post updates while waiting for a lung transplant and continued to post blogs after her daughter’s passing.
Looking back to 2009, Caitlyn was out sick often and initially I never knew why. Her physical appearance was the “picture of health” as her mother refers to in her book “Little Matches.” You would never know that she had been living with a chronic disease, diagnosed at the age of two and survived decades of health scares.
She had a strong warrior way about her that I admired so much. The way she looked at life with a much broader and deeper perspective was inspiring. Caitlyn was the definition of courage. Her story went Nationwide, and her legacy continues to this day as a community health center in Kenya is named in her honor “The Caitlyn O’Hara Community Health Clinic.”
This phrase, a “Picture of Health” sticks in my mind. So many people live with chronic health issues or Deep Loss of a loved one, or Mental Health issues and they look just fine on the outside. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis after my third child was born. I was an Athlete my whole life and I could not understand what was happening to me. What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? I felt denial initially. I think of Caitlyn all the time when I am experiencing a “flare up” and her courage influences me. Do not let the disease win; always deal with what is in front of you and do not back down no matter what! Courage is the word.
Remembering Caitlyn is also remembering that while the person in the desk next to you might be all smiles – you never know what pain they may be feeling inside, what health issues emotional or physical could plague them. Sometimes we take for granted other people’s smooth, easy going nature, not knowing what battles they fight after the office lights fade away and they leave for the day.
I highly recommend reading “Little Matches” by Maryanne O’Hara (Caitlyn’s mom). It’s a powerful message about love, living, loss and light. Caitlyn’s story has something to offer everyone.
About the Author:
Jennifer Manolakis is a Client Success Manager at FAS. She loves to spend time with her family, watching and coaching all three of her daughters in sports, cooking, home renovations and Thrift Shopping!