When the late Jim Valvano was diagnosed with late-stage terminal cancer, doctors offered little hope. When his daughter was diagnosed 13 years later with breast cancer, she quickly learned the true impact of her father’s legacy. Jamie Valvano writes about her personal journey and the lessons that have changed her forever.
Jim Valvano, March 4, 1993
My father battled cancer with the same tenacity he had used to face off against every worthy opponent. I was in the audience when he established The V Foundation for Cancer Research at the inaugural ESPY Awards.
The relentless tumors and harsh treatment had weakened his body, and yet his spirit soared as he spoke the message he was born to deliver. A daughter’s grief kept me from fully understanding the impact of his dying declaration, but 13 years later the plan he set in motion would indeed save my life.
At the age of 33, my days were filled with the beautiful monotony of a young wife and mother of two small boys. One quiet evening while reading in bed, I was shocked to feel a marble-sized lump in my right breast. The whirling nightmare of appointments, tests and questions led me to the moment a stranger in a white coat uttered, “You have breast cancer.”
The V Foundation gave me access to the brightest doctors and surrounded me with an extended team of caregivers. Since my father’s diagnosis, cancer research had made significant advancements. I learned that I had inherited the BRACII gene from my father. Dr. Paul Kelly Marcom, a medical oncologist at Duke Cancer Clinic, was able to formulate a treatment plan to increase my chances of survival.
Over the next year, I endured several surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy. My youth, womanly figure, health, hair and, tragically, my hope vanished. One morning I sat holding my bald head in my hands and wept openly with my Mom.
In that instant I heard the words, “It may not save my life. It may save my children’s lives. It may save someone you love.”
My Dad taught me that one passionate person can use his voice to change the world, and that a powerful team can accomplish the unimaginable.
As a 10-year cancer survivor, I know without a doubt that cancer research allowed me not only to survive but thrive despite a terrifying diagnosis. Jim Valvano created The V Foundation for me and for everyone facing this horrible disease. His final gift has strengthened my faith and given me millions of reasons to believe in a world without cancer.