Football lifer's toughest battle

Wife of UA assistant Scelfo conquers cancer after a six-year fight
2010-12-29T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:28:41Z Football lifer's toughest battleDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 29, 2010 12:00 am  • 

In her 52 years, Holly Scelfo estimates she's been to at least 1,000 football games.

She's seen games in roughly 30 states.

From tiny boys in oversized pads to hulking, professional athletes lining up against each other, she's watched every level of pigskin.

As the wife of UA quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo and daughter of a former Chicago Cardinals defensive back, Holly Scelfo is a football lifer.

Her life changed at a football stadium.

Sitting next to Frank, watching her oldest son, Anthony, play a Louisiana high school football game six years ago, Holly had intense abdominal pains and couldn't stand up.

Frank rushed her to the hospital. Three days later, Holly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was 46.

"I was never down," the Monroe, La., native said. "It was never 'poor me.' My concern was my family. I didn't want any of them to suffer. I just felt like the whole time that I was going to be OK."

A lot of hats

Frank and Holly waited to tell their sons, Anthony and Jordan, about the cancer.

Anthony's team was in the Louisiana state playoffs and Holly wanted her son's focus on football.

About 2 1/2 weeks later on Thanksgiving, the parents told them about Holly's diagnosis.

"I don't think I ever realized how serious it was," said Jordan, who just completed his senior year as Salpointe Catholic's quarterback. "I was young and I didn't know much about cancer. I just thought she was sick, but she was going to get better.

"I didn't realize how many people had died from that disease."

Holly endured six months of chemotherapy, with six-hour treatments once every three weeks. Frank never left her side.

"Frank was my rock," Holly said. "He says to me, 'I know this sounds corny and cliché, but we're going to treat this like a football game, and we're going to beat this thing.'"

The treatments were in the off-season. But there was still plenty going on in the Scelfo house. Both boys played baseball and Frank, who was coaching at Tulane, had his plate full with spring practice and recruiting.

Holly attended every one of Anthony's games.

She would still wake up early and make Anthony breakfast before big games.

Her big smile and contagious laugh never left her. At chemotherapy, Holly provided the entertainment, and often had other patients in tears from laughing so hard.

She was still the funny, caring pistol that her family and friends came to know.

"Baseball (season) started and that's when I had to buy a lot of hats," said Holly of losing her hair. "But, I did not miss a game. Whether I felt sick or not, I was there. There were a couple of times I had to leave early because I really didn't feel good, but I did not miss a game."

That dedication and stubbornness were especially clear to her family.

"The holidays were like two weeks after her surgery and most people are still flat on their backs, but not her," her sister Bonny Van said. "She never wanted anyone to see her in pain. She was just that little football cheerleader she's always been."

Celebration and rituals

For more than five years, Holly continued to have checkups.

The family moved from New Orleans to Ruston, La., in 2007 when Frank was hired as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Louisiana Tech. Last May, the Scelfos were on the move again. This time, they were Tucson-bound after Frank moved in February to start his stint as quarterbacks coach.

About four months after moving here, Holly was cancer free.

"I was on cloud nine," Holly said. "It was a huge burden off my shoulders. I was calling everybody to tell them. My sister sent me flowers. I think I celebrated for a week."

She also got to enjoy Jordan's senior season at Salpointe.

It was retribution. Six years after her diagnosis during Anthony's senior season. Jordan's senior season was highlighted by his mom's good news.

Holly continues her special football season by cheering on the Wildcats in the Alamo Bowl tonight in San Antonio.

At Jordan's games, she always tried to find a spot that gave her space from the rest of the parents.

"I like to stay away from the negativity and when your son is the quarterback, everyone's a coach in the stands," Holly said. "Plus, when Frank is there, people try to come to him and give him ideas because he coaches at Arizona."

Friday nights in the Scelfo house were all about the Lancers and Jordan, and Saturdays were about Frank and the Wildcats.

"On Friday mornings as Jordan is walking out of the house, we say a little prayer," Holly said. "We've done it ever since he's been starting.

"With Frank, on game days, I just have to see him. See him, hug him, tell him I love him and wish him good luck."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Latest Hansen video

More videos

Hansen: Pac-12 football projections, part 2

Ryan and Greg explore the bests — and worsts — in the Pac-12 North.


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...