How two women met, became friends, and worked together to improve the lives of other cancer patients
Sometimes a great friend can be a soul mate, too. That's the way Valerie Wright and Teresa Jones talk about the almost instantaneous bond they formed while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Wright was being treated to shrink a 7-centimeter (2.8-inch) tumor, as well as attack the cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. Jones had undergone a double mastectomy and was in the middle of 16 rounds of chemo when their paths first crossed.
Their friendship has been cemented through an enduring bond created out of a shared challenge. That challenge has paved the way for their futures, helping other patients in their fight against cancer.
"I was on my second chemo and was sitting across from this gal and we both looked identical," Wright said. "We both had on some graphic T-shirt about breast cancer, with bald heads and ball caps on. We got to talking and we just clicked. A lot of times you're sleeping throughout chemo, but we talked pretty much the whole three hours we were there. It was a love connection!" Jones reaffirmed the sentiment.
"It was love at first sight," Jones laughed. "We just hit it off. We went through every step of the way together. We had our doctor in common, Dr. Christopher Stokoe. We set all our appointments together. We'd even go in the same room with the doctor at the same time."
The team effort included a talented group of doctors, which both women credit with delivering excellent clinical and personalized care throughout their cancer treatment experience. They were treated by Stokoe, a hematologist and medical oncologist, and Dr. Jeffrey Greenberg, a radiation oncologist, at Texas Oncology–Plano East. Wright's double mastectomy was performed by Dr. Archana Ganaraj, a surgeon at Texas Breast Specialists–Presbyterian Dallas.
Many people fighting cancer seek counseling to explore and make sense of the complex emotions that come with the disease. Wright and Jones relied on each other, but recognized the importance of having internet sources available for breast cancer patients who need emotional and physical support. To address those issues, Wright created a nonprofit website and a foundation.
The website — baldchicksarehot.org — features survival stories and photos of joyful bald-headed women. In the comprehensive "tricks of the trade" section, Wright offers advice on topics ranging from proper nutrition to how to prepare for going bald, based on her personal experiences.
Perhaps the women's most ambitious pursuit, however, is the V for Victory Foundation.
"During my very first chemo, I made a peace sign and a gal I was working with said it was like 'V for Val's Victory.' So I did the 'V' sign for any milestone: My first new haircut, my first new bra, my first 5K, whatever," Wright said. "That's how we got the name. And it's for all cancers. That's why we're purple. It's not just for breast cancer patients."
As president and founder, Wright leads the 501(c)3 organization, while Jones sits on the board as vice president. The foundation's overall mission is to "encourage, empower and mentor all cancer fighters and survivors from the psychological and physical effects of cancer and its treatment." The Victory Pouch makes it unique.
"I've had 12 surgeries so far," Wright said. "With my nursing background, I discovered that drains were miserable and I found an easier way to deal with them. I accidentally came across using a pouch to carry mine in after my eighth surgery. It's a game changer."
The Victory Pouch conceals up to four drain bulbs and includes a lanyard that makes it possible to shower with both hands — a task that's difficult or impossible otherwise. The foundation has partnered with hospitals to get the pouches to more patients and they're available for free on the foundation's website. The website also features a buy-one-give-one offer for a $10 donation. The foundation has shipped pouches as far as Africa, but when requests come in close to home, Wright and Jones enjoy hand-delivering the pouches because they can connect with the cancer patients and share their stories.
Wright and Jones recently celebrated huge milestones at a dinner party with family and friends: five years of being cancer-free. Their friendship has been cemented through an enduring bond created out of a shared challenge. That challenge has paved the way for their futures, helping other patients in their fight against cancer.
– Steven Lindsey
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