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Valerie’s Story

As you may know, Valerie slipped away on Sunday, July 3, 2011.  Her battle against metastatic cervical cancer was heroic and upbeat.  She never lost her cheery disposition.

Read the incredible memorial for Valerie on the Association of Mormon Letters (AML) Blog .  

See Teresa's cancer fighting efforts at:

Watch the video Teresa made: Why I Run To Fight Cancer!

Hi, this is Teresa, Val's sister.  Val is pretty busy with treatment and stuff so I'm keeping her page updated for her.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011, is when Val's journey started.  We had been chatting on the phone and she mentioned something to me about her health that didn't seem right.  I encouraged her to make an appointment to get it checked right away, and if you can believe it, she did it!  She made an appointment that very day.

She went through several appointments and tests and we just thought everything was "normal" female problems.  Val, herself, thought it was a "prolapsed uterus".  Nobody was jumping up and down wanting her to get a biopsy right away. And we weren't worried because to our knowledge, there hadn't been a cancer in our family for several generations.

Monday, March 21, she visited with an ob/gyn in Nephi who told her he believed she had cancer and he wanted to schedule a biopsy in the hospital for the next day.

I'm sure several of us had the same reaction.  "Are you sure he said it for sure WAS cancer?  He wasn't just saying that was one of the possibilities? Cause you know, doctors do that, they tell you everything it might be and it usually turns out to be nothing." 

Tuesday, March 22
, she went in for the procedure under general anesthesia.  I was a wreck.  The longer it went without hearing from her, the more I worried that they had found something.  I wondered, if they found cancer and she was already under the anesthetic, if they would do a hysterectomy.  I finally got hold of our sister-in-law, Kristina, and she went over to the hospital to find out. 

Kristina happened to run into her own ob/gym in the hallway and asked him how she could find out about Val.  Well, turns out he was the one who had done the procedure and he was headed to Val's room right then so Kristina was there when he gave Val the news.  It was cancer, all right.  Lots of it.

May 23.  Skipping ahead to where we are as of May 23, (and I'll catch up on the blog updates for the last two months as we go), the cervical cancer has metastasized to her lungs and brain.  The cancer responded very well to the abdominal radiation and we are hopeful that the brain radiation will be as effective.  Then she'll have a bit of a break (we think) and they will start the chemo.  P.S.  Having the cancer in the brain disqualifies her from the Avastin trial.  That's okay, we just have to change our thinking.  P.P.S.  We are hoping that the steroids and brain radiation will remove some of the neurological symptoms that we've been seeing.

Keep your eye on the goal, not on the journey
Val's cancer caregivers have told us that the goal is not complete elimination of the tumors.  Rather, at this stage, the goal is to both keep them from getting bigger and to keep them from spreading.  Consider this a "maintenance phase", very much like with diabetes.  You have to be alert and take care of this the rest of your life.

Stay hopeful:
I realize that this is very scary.  A lot of people might think, why put yourself through the treatment, it seems worse than the cancer, sometimes.  To that I say, this is a very sacred journey to take with Val.  If you get to feeling anxious or overwhelmed, talk it out and get some hugs... and then come back onto the journey with Val.  She needs every one of us.

I knew someone who was in cancer treatment for 20 years.  I never knew that's how it worked!  Her cancer had metastatized just like Val's.  But she got on all the government programs, took classes to work on a college degree, and lived as well as she wanted to. I wonder, sometimes, if the Lord let me have this experience with Starla so that I would be ready to be this journeymate with Val.

Please post your messages to Val, I'll make sure she sees them.  And write about your own part of the journey with her, we will all love to read it.

Bless you!


Let this little song lift you as you support Val:

Latest Journal Update

Teary day today

My beautiful sister passed away two weeks ago today.  I was kind of in a "numb" place, coming back to Denver and telling the whole story to different friends every day.  I watched her memorial videos over and over again and didn't feel a thing, didn't cry.  I definitely felt mopey but just couldn't cry any more. 

I knew that was grief and wondered what would happen next.  What happened next was church today.

There must have been 100 people come up to hug me and tell me they were sorry.  Before church, one dear, dear English sister who had lost her own daughter months ago asked me, "How is your sister?"  So I told her, very gently, and she burst into tears, so of course, I burst into tears.

Another sister, I met early so we could rehearse -- I was her accompanist.  She'd been out of the ward for years and had just been released, with her husband, from callings in another ward.  She didn't know what had been going on with me and I didn't tell her.  She sang beautifully and, as usual, I was completely transported just listening to her, it was so full of testimony.  Later, after Sunday School, where I had mentioned Valerie's passing, she came up to me so tenderly and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't know."  She hugged me and whispered some lovely things to me that I know are true.

I don't know what happened to me but I started tearing up during the opening hymn and couldn't sing the sacrament hymn, either.  Tears just rolled down my cheeks and I know the bishopric and our chorister, Sister Crowell, noticed.  It seemed like their hearts were breaking for me.

I taught Sunday School Gospel Doctrine today after being out for several weeks.  That's the class for the adults.  Of all things, today was standing room only... didn't have to do with me but I had to send a couple of brothers out to get extra chairs. 

The lesson was on the Resurrection.  All I can say is, it was so personal for me, having just lost my sister.  A 2006 poll said that only 65% of Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected and that only 36% of Christians believe that THEY will be resurrected.  The conclusion of religious scholars was that churches do not teach this important doctrine and so people just don't know.  So my goal, and I told the class this, was to make sure that everyone left the class knowing about Jesus' resurrection and what will happen to us. 

It was a very special lesson, especially given my recent experience sitting with Valerie in the hospital.  I told the class I felt not only forever changed but actually "transfigured".  It was a hugely spiritual experience, to take that long walk with Valerie.   I felt the Comforter, I felt that peace and that joy.  So the whole lesson was a tender testimony, very powerful feeling of the Spirit.  I liked it, I wish I could linger in that feeling forever.

One sister came up to me after church was over.  She is from Venezuela, I think.  In her lovely accent, she hugged me and declared, "Congratulations!"  I asked, "Congratulations?"  She told me, "Your sister ees so HAPPY!  She ees in pain no more.  She ees FREE.  She ees watching over choo now.  Choo can be happy, too, okay?"  Oh, that was so lovely.  I hadn't thought of it like that.

I have been thinking about continuing my fight against cancer by rejoining my marathon team, even though the season is halfway over.  It's a walk team and we're only doing a half marathon so I think I can do it.  My team fights blood cancers but the advances made in blood cancers often pave the way to treatments against other cancers.  And I like my team, they have totally been there for me through this.  So I think I will call up Team in Training this week and ask if I can rejoin the team this late in the season.  I have to fight cancer the whole rest of my life.  It's a fearful, fearful disease that we just never could get ahead of, for Valerie.  I'm not some big benefactor for something like Susan G. Komen or any of the other big cancer fighters.  So I'll just go back and do my own little thing with Team in Training.

One of my Team in Training friends sent this card to me, and this is how I'll close this post:

May Jesus take you by the hand
And help you find relief
Throughout this time of sadness as
You journey through your grief.
And may you feel the healing touch
Of every thought and prayer
That's sent with love and sympathy
From friends who truly care.
In this difficult time, may you find...
the kindness of friends to comfort you,
compassion to warm you and sustain you,
and the unfailing love of Jesus
to bring peace to your heart.

Please know what a blessing you were and are for Val.  I am sorry for your pain.  I know you will miss her.  Hugs from ... Joan and Lou