On January 27th, former UVa student Ceili Leahy passed away after a long fight with two forms of aggressive cancer. A member of the class of 2018, Ceili completed her first semester at UVa in the fall of 2014 before her illness forced her to withdraw.
Ceili was from Fredericksburg, Virginia, and is survived by her parents, John and Leslie, and younger brother John. She was a student in the College who touched many of her classmates in her short time at the University. She was very open about her health issues and frequently shared stories of her battle online, writing articles for the Cavalier Daily and Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star. Despite her grave condition, Ceili inspired others with her positive attitude and unflappable spirit.
Diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a malignant bone tumor, at age 16, Leahy had about a 15 percent chance of survival. She underwent chemotherapy during her senior year of high school and looked forward to attending UVa as a chance to start anew. While she had a happy and relatively healthy first semester, her condition took a turn for the worst in the spring of 2015. Ceili went to the Children’s Hospital in Washington for tests, where she learned that she had developed Leukemia as well. She completed two round of unsuccessful chemo, and had started a third when she decided to stop treatment. Desiring vivid final days where she could feel more like herself, the 18-year old was legally able to make the decision for herself.
After ending treatment, Ceili went on a local radio talk show to discuss her decision. She revealed that she wanted to go to Colorado with her family in her final days, but that her immune system could not handle commercial flight. The station, WFVA, shared Ceili’s story on Facebook and within 24 hours, the trip was completely arranged via donations from strangers. Touched by her story, people donated everything from a private plane to hotel accommodations, and a $10,000 check from one generous donor. In September 2015, Ceili was able to see the Rocky Mountains for the first time.
A funeral service is being held on Monday, February 8th at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg. Anyone who wishes to share remembrances with the Leahy family can do so at the Caring Bridge website: www.caringbridge.org/visit/ceilileahy.
UVa Dean of Students Allen Groves shared the news of Ceili’s passing with the University community via email on January 30th. He urged those in need of support to contact Counseling and Psychological Services at 434-243-5150. “Our logical minds understand that loss is part of life, but we still feel the emotional impact as a community when we lose a student,” said Groves. “Please continue to support and look out for each other, consistent with the values of our community, and keep Ceili’s family and friends in your thoughts.”