The Garden City Telegram
10/12/2013
SOUTHWEST LIFE

Beating the cancer back

Brad Nading/Telegram Valerie and Tony Piccone, along with their daughter, Brynna, are shown in August at a garage sale at 1501 Melanie Lane where donated items from the community were being sold to raise funds for the family's medical bills.
Touch Photo To Enlarge
By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Being sick isn't something Valerie Piccone, Garden City, is accustomed to. But thanks to modern medicine, as well as her positive attitude, cancer isn't getting the best of her.

"My mom has three kids, and I'm the healthiest one of the three, so it's definitely unusual for me to be sick," Piccone said. "So, when I started feeling bad, I knew something was wrong."

In May, which was about a year after giving birth to her daughter, Brynna, Piccone began feeling sick. She said that while she was pregnant, she noticed a lump in her breast, about the size and consistency of a walnut. At first, she thought it was just a cyst, but before long, she also began experiencing painful backaches.

"So I went in and had that checked and got a bunch of tests done, and they said I had cancer in my breast, my liver and my lower back," Piccone said.

The doctors said it was stage four cancer. The news came as a shock to Piccone and her husband, Tony, who said that he thought he was going to vomit, while his wife somehow maintained her composure.

"She's really been the strongest person in the family with this whole thing," he said.

Piccone said that the cancer she has is caused from high levels of estrogen, likely from when she was pregnant. So in addition to chemotherapy treatments, she recently had to have her ovaries removed.

"The doctors figured that the chemo probably killed the ovaries, but they wanted to be sure because they've had cases where they thought the ovaries were dead, but they've come back," she said.

Since the surgery, Piccone has been experiencing hot flashes.

"I am so glad the weather is starting to cool down," she said, laughing.

In addition to that surgery, she also will need to undergo back surgery and a mastectomy, once her chemotherapy treatments conclude.

Piccone's chemotherapy treatments began shortly after her diagnosis, and while it has resulted in hair loss, she hasn't experienced a great deal of other side effects.

"One thing I've noticed is I'm a little foggy after my treatments," she said. "I don't feel bad on it. I just noticed it gives you what they call brain fog."

Piccone said that the thing that has bothered her the most about her condition is being taken care of.

"I'm used to taking care of other people," she said.

Piccone said she takes vitamins, herbs and other supplements and that she never really has cared for taking medication.

"I take vitamins. I always have. I've always been a vitamin person," she said. "They prescribed pain medication for my back, but I haven't had to use it much — only one day when I overdid it. I don't like the way I feel when I take something like that."

Thus far, the chemotherapy treatments have garnered good results. She said the lump in her breast is gone and that the tumors in her liver have shrunk.

"Three months ago, my liver was really inflamed and swollen, and now, my liver is back to its normal size and the tumors have shrunk," she said.

Piccone's back surgery will involve injections in between her vertebrae.

She said getting to know other cancer patients at the Cancer Center, where she receives her chemo treatments once a week, has helped her in her battle against cancer.

"I've met a lot of amazing people, between nurses, staff and other patients. Everybody has something a little different, and their treatments affect them in different ways, but it's nice to have that support from other people who are going through the same emotions, the same physical sickness — so you have a connection there with everybody," she said. "I don't look forward to chemo, but I look forward to seeing the other people. I come away feeling just emotionally filled."

In August, Piccone's tests indicated that none of the cancer has spread, and while her prognosis for a full recovery is good, she has accepted the fact that visiting the doctor will be an ongoing part of her life now.

"They say once you've had cancer, you always have it. You might be in remission, but it will always be there, so you have to be checked out all the time," she said.