Valencia Suggs shares how research helped her recover from inflammatory breast cancer and pay it forward
Valencia is no stranger to breast cancer. For more than a decade she has worked as a medical assistant at an oncology office supporting people as they undergo treatment.
So when she woke up with a rash on her breast, she knew to get to the doctor. She was eventually diagnosed with stage III inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and often-aggressive form of the disease.
“I was sad, but I didn’t say ‘Why me?’ I knew it could happen to anybody,” she said.
Valencia was treated at her office among her colleagues and patients. In between her chemotherapy rounds, she continued to work. She would receive treatment Friday and come to the office part-time the following week.
“Being there with the patients was hard—not because I didn’t want them to see me sick, but because we had to watch each other go through the ups and downs,” she said.
Going through treatment while caring for others was tough. She was constantly met with questions and concerns. While at times it was too much to bear, her experience gave her new insight.
“Now when I see a new patient come in scared and angry, I can tell them it’s going to be okay,” she says. “I know because I’ve been there.”
One of her biggest cheerleaders was her daughter, Carly Hughes, an actress who has appeared on Broadway and most recently on the TV show, American Housewives. Carly frequently took red-eye flights from Los Angeles to Maryland to be with her mother during treatment. This wasn’t new for Carly who is notorious in her family as a hardwired caregiver.
“Every Mother’s Day my mom buys me a Mother’s Day card,” Carly said. “I’ve always tried to be there for her.”
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Valencia’s treatment involved chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, radiation, and Herceptin, a targeted therapy she was able to take because her breast cancer was HER2-positive. After, Valencia underwent a procedure to remove excess skin from her mastectomy scar that landed her in the hospital for four days with an infection. Today though, Valencia is happy and healthy.
Through these ups and downs, Valencia trusted her treatment course—a major reason for her belief in research.
“When I was diagnosed, my doctor said, ‘We have therapies for your specific kind of cancer. We know what to do,’” she said. “Research is the reason targeted therapy was there for me.”
Read more stories about breast cancer from BCRF’s Research Is The Reason campaign here.