Valerie Pearson was familiar with the halls and rooms of the hospital where she found herself battling stage 4 breast cancer.
Before her death in May of this year, she was a registered nurse at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she transitioned from caregiver to a receiver of care.
Pearson, who is independently described by both her husband and a best friend as uniquely caring and nonjudgmental, became a patient in her own step-down intensive care unit, where her husband said he and the couple’s two daughters spent fearful time while Valerie Pearson reeled under a near final chemotherapy experiment that would either cause her death or lengthen her life.
Valerie made it through the treatment, but she would later find that her breast cancer that had metastasized in her lungs and bones was too aggressive and had spread despite numerous rounds and concoctions of chemotherapy.
“She fought for three and a half years with 18 different types of chemo. At the end of this January, the cancer was growing and there was no more chemo available,” her husband Brian said.
Valerie was 29 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She ran a typical course of treatment, which included a lumpectomy and six months of chemotherapy and radiation.
She was close to the “cancer-free mark” at almost five years when a yearly scan showed the cancer had returned.
“This time it was all over,” Brian said. “She passed away May 5. She was 38 when she died.”
Brian recalls the last four years as a “hard fought battle,” but things didn’t necessarily go downhill.
He calls it a touching story.
“It was a lot to go through, and she’d be sick a lot, but she’d also feel good a lot. When she felt good, we’d all do stuff and live a normal life and go out to eat and do things,” he said.
Brian said Valerie was up out of bed, cleaning the house and cooking for the family two weeks before her death.
One of Valerie’s goals was to take her family to Disney World, and in the summer of 2012, Brian said Valerie was able to take out half of her life insurance and spend it on the best vacation they’d ever taken.
They spent 10 days in Disney world and never waited in a line.
“We took a wheelchair so (Valerie) didn’t get out of breath, and it worked well because my five-year-old sat in her lap. We went in and out of those lines and didn’t have to wait,” Brian said. “ She just didn’t give up. She was ready for the next chemo, but she’d already had 18 different ones.”
The year 2012 was trying, with about a dozen hospital stays, but Brian said his wife was “with her coworkers” when she was hospitalized.
“They were all wanting to take care of her,” he said.
Valerie’s best friend, Robyn Wright, is a case manager in the intensive care unit where Valerie worked. When the two became friends, Wright said she had found her soul mate, and that Valerie became like family. When Brian worked nights during a hospital stay, Wright would stay at Valerie’s bedside at UAMS.
“It has been really hard. I feel like I’ve lost my sister. I’ve never had anyone that loved and cared for me the way she did,” Wright said. “I just miss her everyday.”
Brian said it has been hard losing his wife and the mother of their girls, five-year-old Ashley and 11-year-old Navy, “but we’re making it.”
“Valerie was a very caring, loving woman who did everything she could for anyone. She never held a grudge. If you needed help, she helped. She never judged anyone,” Brian said. “She was the mother of two girls and a beautiful wife. It was very touching. She was the best person you could ask for,” Brian said of his wife.
Wright has a new role in the wake of her best friend’s death. She’ll carry out Valerie’s wishes for her two daughters at each coming milestone, as the girls turn to teenagers, to young women, and eventually have families of their own.
In a closet in Wright’s home there are labeled cards and corresponding wrapped gifts to mark each future event in Ashley and Navy’s lives, from 16th and 21st birthdays, to graduation day, their wedding days, and the births of their future children.
Wright committed to delivering the items on each pre-designated occasion, and already since Valerie’s death has honored the commitment by giving the girls this year’s birthday cards along with two books with pre-recorded audio of their mother’s voice “so they could have a story from mommy that night.”
“When we worked together, every day she’d say she couldn’t wait to get home to see her husband and the kids. She sounded like a newlywed. She wanted to get home and see the kids and be a wife and mom. She loved being a nurse, but she always wanted to be a wife and mom,” Wright said, “And that’s something I’ve always looked up to her for.”
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)