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BVA senior takes Relay for Life personal

| Monday, April 21, 2014, 12:21 a.m.
Jenna Christner

Since her freshman year, Jenna Christner has represented her school as a student organizer for the Relay For Life of Mon Valley.

For the Belle Vernon Area High School senior, the cause behind the event is personal.

“A lot of people do it just to spend time with their friends,” the Rostraver Township woman said. “To me, it hits home because I had personal experiences. It's nice to give back for something that affects me.”

Jenna, 18, has successfully battled leukemia and thyroid cancer during her young life.

The Relay For Life of Mon Valley is scheduled 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 2 at Charleroi Area High School Stadium.

Following the opening ceremony, the event will continue with games and activities throughout the day for students.

A survivor ceremony will take place 6 p.m. A luminaria ceremony is set for 8:30 p.m.

To register or buy luminaria, visit www.relayforlife.org/pamonvalley. The suggested donation for luminaria is $10.

California Area and Monessen school district students will participate in the Youth Relay for the first time, joining students from Belle Vernon Area, Charleroi Area, Elizabeth Forward, Frazier and Ringgold.

Sponsors are Giant Eagle, UPMC Cancer Centers and the Uniontown Hospital Radiation Center at the Robert E. Eberly Pavilion.

Corporate partners are The Valley Independent and Monongahela Valley Hospital.

Memory strong

Jenna remembers this sobering date: Dec. 15, 2004, the day – at age 9 – she was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I was really tired and always getting sick,” Jenna recalled. “I just kept getting colds, but could never get better.”

Following blood tests, her physician at South Hills Pediatrics told the family to take Jenna to an emergency room. She subsequently underwent chemotherapy, which sent the cancer into remission.

Following a relapse a year later, Jenna underwent radiation, a core blood stem cell transfusion and more chemotherapy.

In ninth grade, her thyroid was removed when it was found to be cancerous.

“I had minimal consequences, despite my relapse,” Jenna said. “The only thing I endured was being so hungry from the steroids and not being able to eat.”

In the wake of Jenna's courageous battle, her mother, Tracy Christner, and maternal grandmother, Pat Christner of North Belle Vernon, successfully battled breast cancer.

“I think they thought if I could make it, they could, too,” Jenna said. “And now they are fine.”

Her dad is John Christner, a Rostraver Township police lieutenant.

Views on life

The experience has changed Jenna's outlook on life. She plans to begin studies in pharmacy next fall at Duquesne University.

“The reason I chose something in the medical field is because I want to give back,” Jenna said.

She volunteers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, organizing a dodgeball tournament to raise money for the charity.

Jenna helped to organize a bake sale for Make-A-Wish, another charity close to her. In 2007, Christner became a wish child, although the family trip to Orlando was pushed back a year because of the relapse.

She has received a Make-A-Wish scholarship, which will help pay for college.

Jenna does not participate in the survivor ceremony, preferring to watch.

“It is really touching that people do that,” Jenna said. “And I just want to thank everyone who participates.”

Jenna said she takes satisfaction in seeing students enjoy the event, through which the American Cancer Society ultimately benefits.

“I just like seeing everyone getting together and doing something for the whole community, because it affected me personally.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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