Valerie Smaldone: NY Radio Personality and Ovarian Cancer Survivor!
When I had the chance to speak with Valerie Smaldone, a radio personality who can be heard on 106.7 Lite-FM in New York from 12 to 4 p.m. EST, she gave some eye-opening advice: “Make sure you use the good things in your life, take out the good jewelry; what are you waiting for? Tomorrow you don’t know what will happen and, to put everything in perspective, life is so fragile in so many ways.”
It’s something we’ve probably heard a million times in our lives, but how often do we put the good china aside for holiday use only, save the nice perfume for that special date or wear that cute blouse only when a special occasion comes up?
Valerie knows first-hand how fragile life can be and she’s not shy about sharing her story because she hopes that her story will save more women’s lives.
Almost six years ago, when she was 41 years old, Valerie was diagnosed with early stage one ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed in April, operated on in May, and received chemo in June.
How did you find out?
I wasn’t feeling well for quite awhile, I was in Europe, in Prague, and feeling run down and that’s not like me. I had vague pains on the left side. I’m an energetic person. A CAT scan showed a large cyst on the right side. It remained the same over the next six months, but the doctors decided to take out the cyst and when he was doing that, he saw something he didn’t like. Adjacent to the cyst there was a borderline tumor to the right ovary, so he biopsied it and it came back ‘borderline.’ Everybody was shocked when he found it. The truth is, I knew something wasn’t right, whether the cancer was causing that or a general malaise I needed answers.
That’s part of the problem, right – women don’t listen to their own bodies?
No, they don’t. They need to follow their own body and no matter what, even if doctors say that I’m young, don’t worry about it. The number one thing is that you’re your own best friend and you’re responsible for your own health – only you know what you’re feeling. Get the best doc that you can in the field that you can. You’re in partnership with the doc. I’m not saying don’t respect them, but you’re in a partnership with this team. Need to be proactive.
What happened next after you were diagnosed?
The weird thing is that my sister is an oncologist – a researcher – and she actually developed the drug that I took. When it was time to have my chemo, she said, “Valerie this is my drug, I know this drug, you’ll be fine.” She defended the drug in front of the FDA 15 to 20 years go. My sister is my mentor, she piloted me through this and I was lucky I had someone like this, but once I was released into the system and had to go for tests and chemo, I had an oncologist and a surgeon and I see both twice a year, but nobody was speaking to each other! There’s paperwork and Paperwork, bureaucracy. I needed test results and needed each of them to talk to the other and communicate it all back to my original physician who can be aware of it too and on the same page. If you leave it up to them, they are overwhelmed and there’s too much paperwork and they are human.
What can we do to fix that?
Don’t be annoyed by it, be the producer of it. Be cognizant and aware and if you’re sick and not up to it, you need someone you can count on to help you through this system, because it’s overwhelming.
Why tell your story?
Now my mission is to let people know if I can get it anyone can get it. (My boyfriend) Rick’s mom passed away from ovarian cancer on September 30 and she died within two to three years of her diagnosis. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA http://www.ovariancancer.org/) was out of Washington and heard about me through a spokesperson thing I did. I wanted to do something, didn’t know what – but I wanted to use what I had, the airwaves, to spread awareness of OCNA, testing, doctors, etc. We did PSAs for two years and I did 15- to 30-second spots to get the message across.
What was the response to that?
I got a lot of emails. Women were very appreciative of the fact that someone was speaking about it. I read, “I had stage 3,” “My mom died of it, etc.” and everyone wanted to get the information about the disease out there. The numbers aren’t as great as breast cancer diagnosis, but half of the people who have it die – 28,000 people are diagnosed, 14,000 die – and I wanted to have women more aware that, for example, a pap test has nothing to do with ovarian cancer. I would also get responses from a younger face – we’re seeing younger and younger women diagnosed.
How are you feeling?
I feel well. My (last) test results were very good. I guess I’m considered in my remission. You don’t feel cured of cancer because it comes back so many times. I didn’t have a hysterectomy and I retained my left ovary and they removed my right – I was adamant that I wanted to retain my organs and I don’t want to give them away. The physician had my permission, if everything looked encapsulated, to take it though, but I was young. I have to be cognizant of the other ovary though.
It’s all about raising money for research. If you want to help or become more aware of ovarian cancer, visit:
the Ovarian Cancer National Foundation, http://www.ovariancancer.org/.
the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, http://www.ocrf.org/.
Some frightening statistics from the OCNF:
Ovarian cancer, the deadliest of the gynecologic cancers, is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women.
Ovarian cancer occurs in 1 out of 68 women.
About 20,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year.
About 15,000 women in the United States die from ovarian cancer each year
Currently, 50 percent of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die from it within five years; among African-American women only 48 percent survive five years or more.
So, go ahead and get out the good china tonight while you're serving leftovers. I know I will.