Michelle O’Halloren first attended College of DuPage in 1984 but didn't finish. More than 20 years later she returned to study Nursing, and she couldn’t be happier.
“I decided to return to COD because I wanted to finish what I had started 25 years ago,” she said. “I knew that the best value for my money would be at a community college, and COD has an excellent reputation for its Nursing program. And, my husband is a nursing graduate from COD!”
O’Halloren knew she wanted to be a nurse but, as she explained, “life just kept getting in the way.” Thankfully, her initial advisor at COD set high goals for her. Every semester since, she called him with updates on her progress.
While at COD, O’Halloren received her first two scholarships: The COD Foundation Textbook Scholarship and the Eileen Ward Textbook Scholarship.
“These really made an enormous difference for me and my family,” she said. “My husband had been laid off at work and the timing of the scholarship couldn’t have been better. It was a blessing and a true answer to many prayers so that I could attend school.”
Because of the difference her scholarships made, O’Halloren decided it was time to give back. She rallied her classmates to make several donations: $500 to Arabella House, a live-in treatment home for girls and women with eating disorders; a $500 donation to the Pediatric Cancer Center at the Ronald McDonald Children’s Hospital; and a $250 textbook scholarship for a first-year nursing student in honor of retiring COD professor Mary Lynn Engelmann.
O’Halloren earned her Associate Degree in Nursing and passed her board exam. She spent several years as a nurse in Colorado at the Medical Center of the Rockies in its Medical Oncology unit while working part-time for Pathways Hospice in Ft. Collins. She then transitioned full time to palliative and hospice nursing, a passion that was nurtured at COD by Professor Maureen Waller.
Another exciting chapter occurred in 2017 and 2018, when she and her husband, Keith, an operating room nurse, spent nearly three months traveling and then three months on the San Francisco Bay, where Keith completed a short-term assignment.
“None of my patients ever say, ‘I wish I had worked more, spent more time at the office, worked harder trying to get ahead,’” she said. “We camped, hiked and biked in Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Antelope Island in the middle of the great Salt Lake, Yosemite National Forest, the Redwood Forest, Lake Tahoe and all up and down the coast of California. We ate out of a cooler, cooked over an open fire, slept in a tent and loved every minute of it. Life was simple and we were free to reconnect with each other.”
Back in Colorado, O’Halloren is again working as a hospice nurse providing end-of-life care to patients with life-limiting conditions. She recently participated in Ride the Rockies, a 400- to 500-mile bike ride through the Rocky Mountains, on behalf of a patient.
“He was an avid cyclist who was dying of an aggressive brain cancer and knew he wouldn’t live long enough to ride in the event again,” she said. “I told him jokingly – because I am not a cyclist – that I would ride for him and he said he was going to hold me to it! We had a good laugh together, and after he died, I decided to do it. We put together nine riders and formed a Pathways Hospice team. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m sure he was watching from heaven and having a good laugh at me trying to ride up those mountain passes.
“I thought about the day I met with my first advisor at College of DuPage and back then I never dreamed I’d be in Colorado or riding 500 miles.”
O’Halloren is grateful that she made the decision to return to COD and take her first class with the hope of bettering her life.
“COD launched this gig I call my life,” she said. “My ultimate career goal doesn’t involve people’s accolades or the number of plaques on the wall. I just want to be the very best at whatever I do, so as to honor those who invested in me personally and in my education. My pastor once told me that if you want to measure your life in terms of greatness, you measure it by how well you served others. That makes perfect sense to me.
“As an older, returning student, I was nervous about what my abilities would be and questioned if I could meet the demands of attending classes, studying and family. I really enjoyed meeting so many new people at College of DuPage and I have continued to foster those relationships. It was a huge accomplishment for me to finally finish what I started here so long ago.”