Crystal Heden is a fighter.
Diagnosed with leukemia at age 4, the 18-year-old Valley Christian School senior survived a three-year battle with the disease. Today, Heden strives to live each day as an encouragement and inspiration to others.
“God gave me a second life, why waste it?” Heden, who values faith and family, said.
Her encouraging attitude earned her Valley Christian’s Spiritual Life Leader title three of her four high school years, as voted by her peers.
“That means she shows godly character,” her mother, Debbie Heden, said about the title. “And leads others in a spiritual walk with Christ.”
Her cancer was discovered after falling from the monkey bars and breaking her arm. At the emergency room, her mother told the doctors about Heden experiencing random fevers. The results of a series of blood tests led to a visit to the Sacred Heart cancer ward. There her cancer was diagnosed following a bone marrow biopsy. Debbie Heden said doctors told her that if it had not been discovered at that time, the cancer would have spread into Crystal Heden’s organs.
Over the next three years, Heden underwent chemotherapy, spent 56 days in the hospital, and endured more than 50 bone marrow biopsies and spinal taps as part of her treatment.
Once, while 4, she was in isolation with a friend two years her senior, Trish. Undergoing treatment for low white blood counts, Trish became frightened when the nurse wanted to draw blood. Heden crawled into Trish’s bed, put an arm around her and reassured her.
“That was a pretty memorable moment for me,” Debbie Heden said.
Throughout her treatment, Crystal Heden shared her story with different cancer organizations and church groups, and was an ambassador for the Wishing Star Foundation. Her battle earned Heden the Chase Youth Award for Courage in second grade.
The continuing after-effects of chemo left Heden with headaches, asthma and an abnormal heartbeat called premature ventricular contractions.
None of these hurdles stopped her.
She began playing basketball in kindergarten, and volleyball and track in middle school; sports she continues to play. This year she served as captain for each varsity team.
“I’m dedicated to my sports,” Heden said. “They made me who I am today. They taught me about teamwork, and not to give up.”
Her encouragement to others on the track team earned her the Mighty in Spirit award. For giving it her all on the basketball court, Heden was voted this year’s Total Release player.
The treatment also affected her reading comprehension. But through the help of her mother, hard work and special classes, Heden overcame this obstacle too, and will graduate with a 3.55 GPA.
“She learned what she needs to do to be successful,” Debbie said.
As a way to bless others, Heden volunteered to organize a Choose to See event to encourage the area homeless. Planned for July 13 at Mirabeau Park, Heden was the only student who stepped up when the school counselor first asked for volunteers.
“I prayed about it,” Heden said about why she got involved. “I want to make an impact.”
After graduation, Heden plans to attend Spokane Community College in the fall, then transfer into Eastern Washington University’s nursing program.