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Living with Breast Cancer

Wearing pink at the Run for the Cure in New York City this year she proudly wore pink. "Chemotherapy brought me to my knees," she said, "but I believe it is my mission in life to help other women who have to go through this. You have to go through it to get through it."

Valerie Gray is a lively woman who, along with her husband, runs Robert Gray's Funeral Home. She is actively involved in the B&B in their adjacent property and also babysits her grandson every weekday. To say she has a busy life is putting it mildly. "Sometimes I feel I'm too busy," she said. A malignant tumor was discovered in 1993. She was 44, another woman below the average age for breast cancer. Her's was also detected by mammogram. She had a lumpectomy on her right breast, along with removal of 30 lymph nodes under her arm, followed by eight weeks of radiation. Tamoxifen was prescribed as a maintenance drug for five years following surgery as the tumor was hormone positive, meaning estrogen caused it to grow faster.

Life ticked happily along. She and her husband went on a trip to Aruba in 1998 and wham! She woke up in the morning and her arm was swelled so huge it was unrecognizable.

Lymphedema had arrived with a vengeance. It can occur at any time after trauma to your lymphatic system, either due to removal of nodes or as a result of radiation. It took six months of having her fingers and arm wrapped in elastic to reduce the swelling to a manageable size. She wears an elastic sleeve every day and will for the rest of her life, but she says she is used to it and hardly thinks about it now.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of Val's struggle. She has been diagnosed two more times and has had a double mastectomy. Chemotherapy on two occasions caused her to lose her hair twice. But she is past her treatments and is thriving. Reconstruction is always possible, but she doesn't want to face another surgery right now. "I have the greatest husband and family in the world. My greatest joy is just spending time with them." Despite all of her setbacks, Val is still smiling and wants to encourage women to have regular mammograms. It is crucial for survival to catch the disease in its early stages.

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