There are moments in every person’s life that change and define them going forward. For Valerie, that’s exactly what happened when she received a phone call from her sister, Eleanor, in 2012. “I was about to leave for a trip to New York and she calls and tells me that she has stage four non-small cell lung cancer. And my life just changed in that moment,” she said.

Eleanor was a 55-year-old who had lived a healthy lifestyle, so her family was stunned to learn about her diagnosis. She went on to explain to Valerie that her doctor had only given her two months to live, but Eleanor had other plans. She would spend the next three years fighting to live her life to the fullest.

“She was so inspiring, she found purpose in her diagnosis,” Valerie said. “She would host parties every year to celebrate her health journey on her ‘cancerversary.’ She would invite family and friends and try to show them that she was not going to let her cancer diagnosis prevent her from living life.”

Eleanor and her husband Eleanor and her husband

Eleanor researched all she could about lung cancer and positively pursued any clinical trial that she might be eligible for. During this time, she decided to begin volunteering at a non-profit cancer support center called Wellness Within. There she offered support to as many other cancer patients as she could. Unfortunately, in 2015, right after Christmas, Eleanor passed away.

This is when Valerie decided she needed to pick up the torch and continue Eleanor’s work within the lung cancer community. She joined the American Lung Association’s Hawaii leadership board that year and has held the position ever since. “I too want to make an impact in my community and to honor her. I’m a proud and active volunteer of the American Lung Association of Hawaii,” Valerie said.

During her time on board, Valerie has been involved in many events. For years, Valerie has been a LUNG FORCE Hero representative during Advocacy Day. She spoke to representatives in Washington D.C. online during the pandemic, and in person last year. She is particularly interested in promoting screening. “Only 3% of high-risk people in Hawaii get screened for lung cancer and I think that is pretty sad,” Valerie said. Valerie currently works as a workplace wellness manager for a local health insurance company, UHA Health Insurance. So besides working with the Lung Association, she tries to spread the word at work about lung cancer screening for those who are eligible.

In addition, Valerie is incredibly involved with fundraising. In particular, she helps facilitate the young leaders board and run the “I wear turquoise” campaign as an ambassador. She works on the Outstanding Mother’s Award fundraising team, which helps to highlight the top women in Hawaii who are working in lung health. “Our executive director, Pedro, really advocates for change here in Hawaii. For instance, we were one of the first states to not allow smoking in a public place. It is so wonderful to be a part of that.”

Valerie and her turquoise takeover team Valerie and the "I wear turquoise team"

“I think just going through that journey with my sister was life changing for me. I was able to spend those three years supporting her and her family, and it is that type of support that I try to give to others now. And it is so rewarding to see it making a difference.”

To learn more about how you can get involved with our LUNG FORCE movement and make a difference in your community, visit our website.

Asthma Basics Workshop - National
, | Apr 17, 2024
Asthma Basics Workshop - National
, | May 07, 2024