Graduate student dies of cancer

GW graduate student Christa Thornhill died of lymphoma in her Alexandria, Va. home Dec. 30. Thornhill, who was pursuing a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, was diagnosed in December 1999 with Hodgkin’s disease, a strain of lymphatic cancer.

Family members said Thornhill, 22, had a bright outlook on life, despite the uncertain fate of Hodgkin’s disease.

“She was very positive, never complained,” said Thornhill’s mother, Robin Thornhill. “She didn’t want to talk about it a lot, even up until the very end.”

The first-year graduate student had a wide range of interests, “from modeling to poetry,” and had plans to pursue a career in psychology, Robin Thornhill said.

“She would have probably ended up working in the human resources department at a major corporation,” Thornhill said.

While modeling with Aziza Models, a modeling agency in Norfolk, Va., Thornhill was named third runner-up in the “Miss Hype Hair” contest sponsored by Hype Hair magazine in 1994.

“One of her drama professors wanted her to work with him because she had plans to be in the Miss America Pageant in 2000 or 2001,” Thornhill’s mother said.

Thornhill graduated magna cum laude from Old Dominion University in 2000, where she was a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and Unspoken Words, a poetry group she helped start. Thornhill also belonged to the Spirit of Faith Christian Center in Temple Hills, Md.

“She’s always been a volunteer of some sort, she started out at 15 as a candy striper,” her mother said. “She also was very `artsy-crafty.’ She kept a very comprehensive scrap book.”

Cindy Roman, academic coordinator of GW’s Graduate Leadership Coaching program, taught Thornhill in her Organizational Communication and Conflict Management class last fall.

“She was actually quite ill when she took the class,” Roman said. “But from talking to her parents and friends she apparently got a lot out of the class.”

Roman said Thornhill performed well in the open classroom environment.

“The class was very oriented toward open, effective communication,” Roman said. “I think it meant a lot to (Thornhill) to be in a setting where she could do that.”

Roman said students in her class became very close throughout the semester and many were disturbed to hear the news of Thornhill’s death. “Everyone was quite upset when they heard the news,” she said. “(Thornhill) had to miss more than a student would normally miss but she gave it her all when se was there.”

Hodgkin’s disease is a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system.
About 7,400 Americans were diagnosed with the disease last year, according to the American Cancer Society Web site. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs found in the neck, underarm, groin and other parts of the body’s immune and blood-forming systems.

The cancer commonly occurs in early adulthood, between the ages of 15 and 40, and late adulthood, after 55. Thornhill underwent chemotherapy to treat her illness and did not expect to die from Hodgkin’s disease, her mother said.

“Hodgkin’s disease is very uninsurable, we didn’t anticipate that she would die from it,” she said. “The last week she just took a turn for the worse.”

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