"My mother would ask me at least once a week if I had scheduled an appointment," Valerie said. "An oncologist told my mother long ago that I should begin screenings at age 25. It took three years for her to become relentless."
Finally, Valerie got her test.
"I had the images done before work one morning," Valerie said, "and by the time I got to the office, I had a message from the radiologist asking me to return to get more images. My blood went cold."
Valerie knew she would get breast cancer someday.
"But someday and age 28 are two very different things," she said.
Her mother, Adrienne, was by her side when she woke from surgery to check her lymph nodes, giving Valerie the great news that they were clear.
"I had a hematoma during surgery, and the doctor put a tube in to let the blood drain," Valerie recalled. "The doctor instructed my mother to remove it the following morning with a firm, quick movement. So, the day after my surgery, my mom removed the surgical dressing, grabbed on to the tube, and pulled it like she was starting a lawn mower.
"Blood splattered onto every wall in the bathroom. It looked like a crime scene. My mother and I burst out laughing for 10 minutes. It was such a relief to be able to have a ridiculous, lighthearted moment in the middle of this very serious situation."
When Valerie had a mastectomy, her mother stayed with her for a month. Her mother also went to Valerie's first and last chemo treatments, and whenever Valerie had complications, including many infections, her mother would drive three hours from Amityville, N.Y., to Ardmore to take Valerie to the hospital.
"When I think back and look for the positive in the events of the past five years," said Valerie, now 34, "I realize that the reason I was diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age was so that I had my mother, my best friend, right by my side.
"I am certain I would not have been as strong in my fight had she not been by my side," Valerie added.
Now, 51/2 years later, Valerie can say finally, triumphantly, that treatment for breast cancer is complete.
"I am a happy, healthy survivor!" she says now. "The only darkness" is that her mother has died.
"Three years after my diagnosis," Valerie added, "and nine years after her own breast cancer diagnosis, my mom was given just a few short months to live because of an extremely aggressive form of colon cancer.
"I have my mother to thank for being the positive, inspiring woman who was able to not only get myself through the experience, but also a long list of young survivors who were diagnosed after me. My doctors would often call me when they had young women recently diagnosed, since they saw that I had a positive outlook that could help other young survivors get through the toughest moments.
"There have been been uplifting moments and deeply sad moments over the past five years," Valerie concluded, "but such is life. How we process those moments defines who we are. I am hopeful that I can continue to touch other's lives and make my mother proud."
- Michael Vitez
Contact Michael Vitez at email@example.com or 215-854-5639.