A short life, a long legacy

Posted: July 07, 2014

REBEKAH FUREY'S family would like for this column to be about how she lived, not about the cancer that took her life on June 8.

But it's impossible to write about the one without the other, because Furey, 30, made the world more hopeful for those who fight Hodgkin's's lymphoma.

If her name sounds familiar to Daily News readers, it's because we wrote about Furey in May 2012. She was in a ridiculous battle with administrators at Chestnut Hill College, where she was a graduate student.

Furey, who grew up in Doylestown, was working as a schoolteacher when she was diagnosed. She had just three credits to finish at Chestnut Hill for her master's degree in clinical and counseling psychology. She hoped the school would allow her to hear her name called as she strode across the graduation stage on May 12, 2012.

But Chestnut Hill forbade students to walk until their courses were complete. So Furey's graduation was postponed to 2013.

The problem was, Furey was in fragile remission from a deadly form of Hodgkin's, a usually curable blood cancer. There was a chance she'd be too sick to graduate in 2013 - or, her doctor explained to college administrators, that she would die first.

"We just don't know," Furey said then. "I try to live as though everything will be OK. But in reality, it's an unknown."

Still, Chestnut Hill wouldn't budge. When I wrote about the cruelty of that, the roar of public support on Furey's behalf was so loud that the school relented. (Thank you, Daily News readers.)

So Furey got to experience a moment of unbridled joy as she collected her degree to the cheers of those who knew the enormity of what she'd accomplished.

Two months later, she completed her credits. And then her health worsened terribly.

"She sent out resumes and started jobs, but became too sick to continue. It frustrated her," says her birth mom, Darlene Furey (whose partner Diane Kinney is Rebekah's other mother).

She wanted badly to work with children in domestic-violence situations. As a child, Furey donated her pennies, in envelopes, to support children's programs at A Woman's Place, a Bucks County domestic-violence shelter. Later, as a teen, she volunteered in those same programs.

"Bekah could manage a room full of children with no problem," says Darlene Furey. "She had a real connection to them. In shelters, the focus is so much on safety and housing issues, there's not much left over for the kids. She was drawn to their need."

Furey's illness, though, kept her on the sofa more often than on the job. So she redoubled her already impressive online advocacy on behalf of the small, global and digitally connected community of Hodgkin's patients whose disease is resistant to treatment.

Furey, diagnosed in 2006, was their warrior. She'd been through chemo, radiation, a bone-marrow transplant and clinical trials that brought her back from near-death enough times that she became a light of hope in the Hodgkin's community. She encouraged patients living as far away as Israel, Canada, Scotland and Australia to try this new trial, meet with that expert. She knew their names, met some of them face-to-face. And when they succumbed, she stayed in touch with their grieving families.

"She was lovely, cute as a button but full of piss and vinegar," says Alison Humphries of California, whose daughter, Adrienne Boardman, died five years ago. "When you lose a child, a lot of people disappear - they just don't know what to say. Bekah kept in touch. It was a comfort."

By last winter, Furey's life was more about cancer than it was about quality, says her mother. She made the difficult decision to undergo a second stem-cell transplant, the only known cure - if she could survive the procedure.

"It was her only chance, but it certainly was not a wonderful option," says Darlene Furey.

Furey underwent the transplant on May 13 and suffered complications immediately. Her systems started shutting down. Three weeks later, she was gone.

"I held her when she came into this world, and I held her when she left," says Darlene Furey.

The large Furey family has set up a fund in Rebekah's name at A Woman's Place.

"We didn't want the fund to be about the disease, but about the thing Bekah most cared about," says Furey. "Her life was about so much more than cancer. That's how we want her to be remembered."

Victoria Duval to miss Freedom's tennis season with Hodgkin's lymphoma.


A memorial service for Rebekah Furey will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Judea, 38 Rogers Road, Furlong, Pa. To donate to the Rebekah Furey Fund for Children, go to www.awomansplace.org, click "donate" and mark her fund under the section reading, "If you have a special purpose for your donation, please let us know."


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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