Member Stories: Meet Valerie

May 1, 2023

Ms. May's story is lovingly sponsored by Sara Ruggles

The theme of A Calendar to Live By 2023 is In Her Own Words. All 12 women who grace its pages have honest, inspiring stories written in their own words to share with readers -- as well as words of advice for other young women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Read on to get to know more about Ms. May 2023.

Ms. May 2023 | Diagnosed at 47 (2016)

[BC –Before Children, Before Cancer, Before COVID] Big Changes come that turn the page of a life story to the next chapter. Early in 2016 I had my annual mammogram and was given the “all clear see you in a year.” But 3 months later I found a golf ball size tumor in my armpit. The doctor made a mistake. The cancer was no longer contained in the breast but had spread to the lymph nodes. My type of cancer is HER2+, aggressive and deadly, striking younger women. Treatment began at lightning speed often feeling like a tornado – chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation. I didn’t ask “why me” after learning that 1 in 8 women get breast cancer, but “why not me.” I didn’t choose cancer, but I chose
the way I responded. I learned many things in this chapter of my life. First, find support. I was fortunate to have family, especially my husband, who stood by me through this experience. I was fortunate to connect with Here for the Girls from the very beginning when I still had my own hair. These women have “been there done that” joining me in a head-shaving party, that began with a mohawk, and many other tips for the years ahead. I learned to advocate for myself, interviewing doctors to be part of the treatment team, asking the tough questions, and pursuing new developments in research. Doctors have many patients; I have one body. It’s my job to take care of it and speak up. I was reminded that time is precious. Being connected with other group members is a reminder that sometimes cancer conquers. It is important to treasure the gift of each day and avoid time wasters. Fear can be a big-time waster if one spends too much time in this headspace. Will the cancer come back? Will I fail? What will people think? It takes courage to live the life we really want.

ADVICE: Dance, even if you are the only person on the dance floor. Dance and feel the moment.

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