This week we meet Valencia Robinson, an early stage breast cancer patient and English teacher who has become a great friend to METAvivor. Valencia lives in Daytona Beach, Florida and is often seen at conferences and retreats supporting metastatic patients.
Barbara Bigelow, Editor
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was teaching high school English and had a 3, 4, 5, and 8-year-old. I continued teaching while in therapy and only took time off when I had surgery for my bilateral mastectomy.
On January 3, 2009 I found myself sitting in a church service celebrating the life of a dear friend who had died of breast cancer. We had both been diagnosed in October 2006 and began chemotherapy together in January 2007. I had taught her son in seventh grade, so we already had a relationship and sharing our journey together was what we both needed as we went through our treatments.
And then she died….at the age of 40, I was 37. I was shocked.
Of course, back then, we just said “she died of breast cancer”, not metastatic breast cancer. After seeing her suffer and succumb to this disease I soon became committed to educating myself and my community. This is what started my advocacy work and learning more about metastatic disease.
My oncologist would often refer people to me when she had young patients who were diagnosed. Sometimes I would meet them at her office to just listen and encourage them. Then an idea formed in 2011 when another local doctor and his wife, who is an RN, wanted to sponsor a retreat for breast cancer patients because both of her sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Someone recommended that they contact me to help with this initiative. “Strength for the Journey” was created and for the past 9 years we have supported women from across the country who are living with metastatic breast cancer. The retreat begins on Friday and ends on Sunday and there is nothing for the patients to do but arrive and have a grand time. We offer massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, and reflexology to every patient. We have fitness classes, nutrition classes, and even one on one sessions with a therapist for those needing it. This retreat has evolved into such a special event that throughout the year we have lunch with local patients to stay connected with them and help them in any way that we can. The sad reality is that each year someone passes away. Still, we continue these retreats, honoring those who have lost their lives and loving on the new patients, helping them navigate through their cancer journey in any way we can.
I became involved with METAvivor after meeting Terlisa Sheppard at Project Lead. Her enthusiasm was contagious. Working with her and metastatic patients in Florida, we have formed a lasting friendship especially when driving the METAvivor RV for Sea to Sea for MBC.
Advocating, for me, means helping patients through their journey and learning all that I can at conferences so that I can continue to educate my community.