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Walking With Strength

Christen Heye was about to begin her last semester at BC when she was diagnosed with cancer. Now, she’s ready to graduate and determined to be an oncology nurse. ‘It has to be good for something,’ she says of her experience. ‘That’s how I’m looking at it.’

10/03/13
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Christen Heye (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 3, 2013

When Connell School of Nursing senior Christen Heye takes to the Boston Common next Thursday, Oct. 10, for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk, she will be doing more than helping raise money for the fight against blood cancers.

She’ll be taking a victory lap in her personal fight against non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Heye was diagnosed in January while home in Kenmore, Wash., over semester break. In a whirlwind of just five days she went from being in the emergency room with chest pain to starting chemotherapy.

The chemo regimen was grueling, comprising six 96-hour infusions of five different drugs. Throughout the treatment, Heye kept focused on her goal: returning to campus for Senior Week.

“It’s funny that my mind went there instead of ‘Am I going to live?’” said Heye. “But that was my goal.”

Heye had her last chemo treatment at the end of April and returned to campus in time for Senior Week.

“I was incredibly blessed to be able to return to campus for Senior Week and Commencement. It felt like the perfect end to treatment, being able to come back to BC to see my friends graduate and celebrate with them,” said Heye. “One of my best friends in CSON acknowledged my return at our Pinning Ceremony, and I stood up and waved to all of the nursing students I’d spent the last four years studying with. It was incredible.”

In June, Heye got the good news that her cancer was in remission. This fall, she is finishing requirements for her undergraduate degree and beginning her graduate studies. Her care has been transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital so she can be monitored while she pursues her master’s degree. She has also returned to her resident assistant duties in Rubenstein Hall.

There have been some career-related takeaways from the experience for Heye, a future health care provider. “Listening to what patients want is key to empowering them when something seems so out of control. Knowing that I was listened to and that my doctor was going to do everything she could to make [attending Senior Week] happen was huge,” said Heye.

“Christen is a very mature person who is always focused on the positive,” said Catherine Read, Connell School associate dean for undergraduate programs. “What most impresses me about Christen and what will make her a great nurse practitioner is her out-of-the-box thinking.”

According to Read, Heye is one of driving forces behind the formal establishment of the psychology minor for CSON students. With Read’s logistical assistance, Heye was able to take a three-credit clinical course through the University of Washington immediately following her cancer treatment. Her clinical placement was at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance at South Lake Union, a partner clinic of where she had received treatment.

The Light the Night Walk in which Heye will participate next week is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s signature fundraiser and awareness event, held in some 200 communities across North America throughout the fall. On Heye’s team are classmates and friends from BC.

“It isn’t about me,” insists Heye. “I know three other people in the Class of 2013 who have or have had cancer. I’m not the only person who has gone through this. I’m not the only BC student to go through this. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness.”

Joining Heye on the walk will be her mother, Diane, who is traveling to Boston from Washington. An oncology nurse in Seattle, Diane was by her daughter’s side throughout Christen’s illness and treatment. “She was phenomenal —asking the right questions and knowing what was a normal side effect,” recalled Christen. “Because I was tolerating the treatment well and because of her expertise, I was able to receive some of treatments at home.”

Heye plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an oncology nurse.

“I’ve always wanted to do oncology, since I can remember. My whole experience this spring has not deterred me from doing that,” said Heye. “It has to be good for something. That’s how I’m looking at it. If I can help one other person, through my own experience, [and] ease whatever fears they might have or answer any questions, that’s what I’m going to do.”

For more on the Light the Night Walk, see Christen Heye’s webpage at http://pages.lightthenight.org/ma/BostonL13/CHeye