By Betsey McCaul, TSB Contributing Writer
Boyd High School nurse Valerie Wright is a warrior following a year of unexpected challenges. Since Boyd High opened in 2006, Valerie, 47, has served as the school’s team captain for Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society’s annual event held in McKinney the last weekend in April each year. In the past, Valerie has participated in a leukemia marathon, and races for the Susan
G. Koman Foundation in addition to Relay for Life, all in support of health awareness. But this year for the first time, Valerie wasn’t just the team captain or a participant – she was a cancer survivor.
“Doing something like that as a survivor…I had a hard time wrapping my head around that,” Valerie said.
Carrying the banner at the front of the Relay Survivors’ Walk, perhaps the most moving portion of the event, Valerie was flanked by Boyd student Alex Daggett whose lost his leg to a bone tumor (osteosarcoma), and 2011 Boyd graduate Jimmy Johnson who was diagnosed with a brain tumor (medullobalstoma).
“What an emotional moment!” Valerie said. “They’re my heroes.”
Valerie began her battle against cancer exactly a year ago, a mere week after captaining the Boyd Believers team in the 2011 Relay event.
“It was May 6 [Friday] when I found the lump,” Valerie said, explaining how unexpected the possibility of such a discovery seemed. “I’ve always been healthy, promoted health, taught health, and I have no breast cancer in my family. I had mammograms every year and they were always clear”.
Valerie was on a vacation in Florida, washing sand off her feet and legs, when she discovered what felt, as she describes is, like a Tootsie roll deep in the tissue underneath her right breast.
“The room spun. I made an appointment for the following Monday with my gynecologist, and for a mammogram,” Valerie said. “My doctor thought it was just fibercystic dense breast tissue and said, ‘We’ll see you in a year.’ But I said, ‘This isn’t normal for me. Feel the left breast and you won’t feel anything like that.’ I’m a woman and I understand my body.”
Valerie was persistent and the radiologist did a physical exam and a repeat mammogram. “She said, ‘These tests aren’t always 100 percent, so let’s do a needle biopsy,’” which Valerie had the following Friday…Friday, the 13th. The biopsy revealed cancer cells.
“I jumped right into it,” Valerie said. “I called a breast surgeon, who reviewed the x-ray and said, ‘I’m glad they did a biopsy because I don’t see anything on the x-ray.’ Then on my 25th wedding anniversary, I got the call that the lump was cancer.”
Doctors biopsied her lymph nodes, which were also cancerous, and the cancer was rated Stage 2B. She began chemo right away, on June 3, 2011.
“It was the day of Boyd’s graduation. I had my first chemo treatment that morning and graduation that night. I couldn’t miss graduation – I had a lot of kids very special to me graduating that night,” Valerie said. “I had trust in my doctors and in God, and the support of my family and friends. I knew I could never let this hold me back.”
Valerie took medical leave from work to attend to the six chemo treatments of three
medications that lasted between three to four hours each. The final chemo treatment
took place in September, and after a month off, surgeons performed a bilateral mastectomy in late October. While cancer was found only in the right breast and adjacent lymph nodes, Valerie opted to have both breasts removed to prevent worries about future mammograms.
“I remained very healthy throughout the experience and even went to London over the summer with my son’s soccer team. My oncologist ordered me to go,” Valerie said. “That’s what is so awesome about oncology now – they really allow their patients to have a more normal life.”
She returned to work full-time after Thanksgiving last year. She always began radiation around that time. Reconstructive surgery and an additional operation to correct a complication came during spring break in March of this year. Now two months later, she’s healing well. She’s been journaling since the start of her path at and is even taking an art class where survivors create collages about their journeys.
Next on Valerie’s journey is participation in the July 7-8 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in San Francisco, California, the biggest cancer awareness fundraising event yet for Valerie. Participants walk up to a full marathon (26.2 miles) the first day and a half-marathon (13.1 miles) the second. Each team member races $1800 for the cause.
“I sent out one big email to family and friends and came within $30 of my goal. I’ve been incredibly blessed,” Valerie said. “Most of my family will be there to support us in the race – my parents, my brother Mark, his wife Jessica and son Jackson, my children Kevin (18) and Katherine (21), and my husband Roy (47).”
Valerie’s team, “Breast Friends Unite,” includes her “soul sister” Teresa Jones of Rowlett (the women met at Valerie’s second chemo treatment), Mary Douglas of McKinney, Kelly Puchi from Tucson, Arizona, and Cara Douglas and Teresa Kirkorian, both of Fresno, California. While Valerie has met her goal, some of her teammates still need donations toward theirs.
“Anyone wanting to support us in this Avon Walk can go to our team page and make a donation to the entire team.” Valerie said, adding that donations to the team will be dispersed amongst team members until all have met their goals. “In doing this race together, we’re celebrating life.”
About her journey thus far, she added, ““I’m so different on the inside, it’s hard to articulate. I live each day for the moment. Today, I choose joy!”
Click here to view the team page for Breast Friends Unite and to donate to their cause.
Valerie Wright is a warrior for “V”ictory against cancer.
Top: Valerie Wright with her “caregivers”, son Kevin and husband Roy.
Valerie Wright heads the April Relay for Life Survivors Lap with Boyd student Alex Daggett and 2011 Boyd graduate Jimmy Johnson.