Julie Conlon

Equinox Staff


Sam Norton

Student Life Editor


October 12, 2007 was the day her life changed.

It was two weeks before her birthday—two weeks before she would be 17.

But plans of birthday celebrations were overshadowed by the diagnosis of the lump found on her left lymph node.

At age 16, Christy Nguyen, was a healthy active high school student.

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A diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma was the last thing she expected.

“I was freaking out obviously because you’re 16 and you don’t think about it,” she said.

It was Stage II cancer. The cancer had spread to her neck and chest.

This meant chemotherapy and radiation.

“I’m 16, I just got my license. I want to go on dates. I want to be normal. And you know once you hit a certain point, you’re not going to be normal,” Christy said.

To Christy, normal was the reflection that painted the picture of a healthy girl, a head full of hair.

But cancer distorted Christy’s reflection of that girl.

“You’re at this stage where you’re finding yourself, and you don’t know when you feel pretty. Then you lose your hair and you feel ugly because you don’t feel like a girl,” she said.

Her hair would fall out in clumps; she’d find globs of it all over the place.

“I would just scream and start crying,” Christy said.

While Christy lost her hair to chemotherapy, chemotherapy did not rob her of her willingness to survive.

“It was more motivating than anything because you try to find one thing to focus on,” she said.

“If it’s not your family, then you focus on schoolwork,” Christy said.

For Christy, life’s focus shifted solely towards schoolwork and family, rather than the dark battles that cancer presented.

“You worry more about the people around you and whether or not they can handle the situation,” she said.

On October 12, 2007, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Christy, her mom Nancy, and her dad Nighia, found out that Christy had Stage II Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“We had gone to the specialists and they were like ‘This is a cancer doctor, they diagnose people for cancer,’” Christy said.

“They thought I was just sick. I cried. I cried a lot actually. I actually went back to school the same day. I didn’t want to deal with my mom, “ she said.

“My mom was very emotional and she was crying the whole time and I was like ‘I can’t sit here and watch my mom cry.’ It’s kind of uncomfortable because you’re not used to your parents crying,” Christy said.

The diagnosis left Christy’s parents scared and frightened—frightened that they might lose her to a disease they never imagined would try to claim the life of their 16-year-old daughter.

“In the back of your mind, you’re not sure. Meanwhile, you have to act like normal so she’s not scared, but in the back of your mind you’re really scared,” Nighia said.

“You would think it would have been her being the one who took it hard, but it was us who took it hard–me, her dad, her brother. We all took it harder,” Nancy said.

For Christy, the new norm became receiving chemotherapy treatments for four months, followed by radiation.

Despite the toll these treatments had on Christy’s body, it did not compare to the way Christy felt about her peers’ perceptions of her.

She may have lost her hair to this disease, but that was only her outside appearance—she would not succumb her personal identity to cancer.

“I didn’t tell a lot of people. I told like maybe five (friends),” Christy said.

“If someone finds out, they’re going to treat you differently. They’re going to be weird and you don’t want that. You don’t want people to constantly talk about you,” she said.

Cancer had won the battle with her physical appearance, something she had no control over.

Christy’s family dynamics was an aspect of her life she had control over—the one aspect she could normalize.

But when cancer is involved nothing is normal.

“It’s just harder because you know in the back of your mind, your parents will look at you differently from your siblings and your friends will look at you differently than their other friends,” Christy said.

The face of cancer is grim—one that has the ability to deteriorate any shed of strength its victim may have.

But Christy and her parents were able to develop a shield—one that showed cancer would not dismiss this family’s inner strength.

Together, Christy and her family were able to look cancer in the eye and show their willingness to fight for survival.

“My dad would never show that it bothered him. But I’d hear him at night and I’d hear him cry, but I just pretended things didn’t bother me because I wouldn’t want my mom and dad to see that,” Christy said.

“What if I get sick again? You have to think about that. I always think about the other person. If I was in their position, if I wasn’t the one that was sick, what would I do?” Christy said.

Five years later, the looming possibility of being sick again is one that plagues her thoughts with trepidation of having to go through treatments of chemotherapy and radiation again.

But after four-and-a-half years, Christy is still in remission.

“We’re excited. Scared. Excited that she’s in good health, but at the same time, you’re stuck. You still have to think about, there’s always that possibility lying there,” Nancy said.

“It’s scary to wait, but she’s calm and we hope everything’s okay—we’ll breathe better,” Nighia said.

Despite the aspects of Christy’s life that cancer has robbed from her, she said that cancer has helped shape her outlook on life.

Junior Shallyne Baez, friend of Christy’s, said, “She’s serious. She understands the value of life.”

“You never really think about life you kind of just live it. Everyone talks about how they just want to live life. I know what that means, but to an extent,” Christy said.

Christy’s fifth-year anniversary of remission is around the corner, and her strength does not waiver.

“She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. The will of that little short girl is phenomenal,” Baez said.

October 12, 2012 will be the day Christy and her family can stop holding their breath and begin to live their lives without cancer.


Julie Conlon can be contacted at



Sam Norton can be contacted at



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