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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cheney’s Carmen Massey excels despite hardship

It was not a typical high school experience.

It was, however, the one dealt to Carmen Massey, Cheney High School senior, daughter, sister and family caretaker of a single-parent household.

Much of her time as a teenager has been devoted to her mother, Paula Hansen, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, the summer after Massey’s freshman year.

Her older sister, Susan, put off her plans to go to the University of Washington and stayed local. When Hansen went into remission, Susan Massey transferred to UW, leaving Massey and her younger brother, Jordan, at home with mom.

Hansen returned to work at the Cheney Medical Center and life became more balanced, more of a routine.

But the cancer returned. Gleevec, a drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, has not been effective, Massey said.

Her mom needs more treatment. There’s talk of a bone-marrow transplant in Seattle.

Through all the angst and added responsibilities, Massey has kept her grade-point-average at 3.9. Her days start early, caring for her mom and tending to her 9-year-old brother. They end late, after fixing dinner, cleaning up and finishing homework.

Massey said she’s had the support of her peers and teachers, most notably Jeff Butler, a pre-calculus and physics teacher who had both sisters in class.

“If I ever needed anyone to talk to, he’d listen,” Massey said.

Butler, who has been at Cheney for 24 years, said, “I provided a place that was normal for her when your world is topsy-turvy,” he said.

“She has a very difficult responsibility, compared to most 18-year-old girls.”

Massey, a student in the Cheney schools since kindergarten, said she plans this fall to attend Washington State University, where she’ll major in biochemistry or zoology.

Her goal is to become a veterinarian, which requires eight years of school.

“I have a motivation. I like learning,” Massey said.

“I just wanted to have a better future than what my mom had.”

Massey finished high school with five awards of recognition and a modest sum of scholarship money.

“There’s not a gal on the planet that deserves a little bit of a pat on the back more than Carmen Massey,” Butler said. “She’s a dandy.”

Her attitude has been admirable.

“The whole high school experience has been great,” said Massey, who graduated on Sunday. “With smaller classes, I got to know everybody really well.”

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