Radiation Oncology Nurse Honors Mother’s Memory

August 19, 2016
By: Karen E. Butler, Director of Communications, DCI

Nicole Kenney, BSN, RN, CN III, poses with her father at a previous Light The Night Walk in Raleigh.New Hampshire native Nicole Kenney, 31, already had one undergraduate degree under her belt when she applied in 2009 for enrollment in Duke University School of Nursing’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) Program. Kenney was accepted, but halfway into the program during the summer of 2010, she received a call from home that would test her determination and resolve.

“My mom had been diagnosed with adult acute myeloid leukemia, or AML,” said Kenney, now a radiation oncology nurse at Duke Cancer Center in Durham, North Carolina. “My immediate thought was to just quit the program and go home.”

Kenney’s mother urged her to stay.

“She told me, ‘I want you to finish what you’ve started. You must accomplish your dream of becoming a nurse.’”

With steely determination, Kenney threw herself into her studies. She also learned all she could about her mother’s disease—a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (types of white blood cells), red blood cells or platelets. In her Google searches, Kenney came across The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a national non-profit committed to supporting people with blood cancers and raising funds to keep research moving forward. While perusing the site she learned about an annual walk event, Light The Night.

“Like anyone, I wanted to dive in and support my mom,” Kenney said. “As luck would have it, the next walk was schedule for that very fall, only a few months after my mother’s diagnosis.”

Kenney formed a team made up of family, friends and fellow nursing students. In her mother’s honor, she named her team, Team Noreen. She asked her family and friends in New Hampshire to represent Team Noreen at their local Light The Night walks in New Hampshire.

“Our first year we raised about $550,” Kenney said. “And every year since we’ve been able to build on that. In the six years I’ve been walking we’ve raised more than $5,000.”

Nicole Kenney (right) poses with her teammate and colleague Rustica Cerillo, BSN, RN, CN III. The pair will step out Saturday, Oct. 22, for the 2016 Light The Night Walk at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary.A few years ago Kenney reconnected with a close friend from New Hampshire, Lauren Ling, a graphic designer who owns a freelance business, Pine Designs Tennessee, located in Nashville, Tennessee. Together, the women put a plan in place to design support for LLS. Kenney would sell tee-shirts designed by Ling. Ling volunteered her time and talent to the effort. The pair has teamed up ever since. This year Ling has created two designs from which to choose.

“We’re so fortunate to have Lauren partner with us,” Kenney shared. “The 2016 designs showcase the Raleigh and the Durham skylines, both of which also feature the signature Light The Night lanterns.”

After undergoing a double umbilical cord stem cell transplant, Kenney’s mother developed myasthenia gravis (MG), a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder. Then, in 2013, Noreen succumbed to the effects of her cancer.

“Now I walk to keep her memory alive,” said Kenney. “The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its walk enable me—empower me—to do something for which I actually do have control. I couldn’t make Mom well again. But I can rally others to join the quest to find a cure.”

Kenney and Team Noreen, will step out with team Duke Cancer Institute and thousands of others on Saturday, Oct. 22, at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina. For the first time-ever, the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program will host a Glam Station featuring many of the same services found in Duke Cancer Center’s Belk Boutique. For more information or to join Kenney’s team, visit Team Noreen.

NOTE: Kenney and her teammates will host a Wine & Design fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. Registration is $45 per person. Proceeds benefit Kenney’s team. To register, visit http://wineanddesign.com/locations/durham. Click “View Schedule” and change fields to September 2016 and Private Events. The private event code is: Noreen (case sensitive). Wine & Design is located at 4810 Hope Valley Road, in Durham.

To order a 2016 Light The Night tee designed by Lauren Ling, contact Nicole Kenney. Short-sleeve tee-shirts are $15. Long-sleeve tees are $20. Orders are due by Sept. 2 at noon. A second order will be placed with orders being due by Oct. 7 at noon. Payment must be received at the time of order. Cash only. Shirts are available in dark heather gray or royal blue.

To purchase tees, contact nicole.kenney@duke.edu.