Valerie D

Valerie D., HI


A pivotal moment…can you reflect on one of the on the pivotal moments in your life and how those moments of clarity have given you new perspectives and opportunities for change?

My name is Valerie Davison, and I am here with you in Washington, DC to because of my personal commitment and passion for the research and work of American Lung Association. 

It was in 2012, right before I was to leave for a vacation to New York.  My sister, Eleanor Grace, called me and shared her dreaded news – “it’s stage 4, non-small lung cancer”.  A cancer diagnosis…that’s not what any person wants to hear. My sister was not a smoker, so she wasn’t at high risk for lung cancer.  She was miles away, living in California, and shared that Dr. Doom (as she called him), only gave her 2 months to live.  But…courageously she lived to the fullest for next 3 years.

That was the beginning my journey.  I became involved with the American Lung – Hawaii leadership board shortly after her passing.  My former manager and Pedro Haro, encouraged and supported me to become an advocate for lung disease since it hit so close to home for me. 

Losing my older sister and BFF was devastating for my family including our Mom. We found comfort though, that throughout the course of her disease, Eleanor demonstrated time and time again how precious life is.  She was a very vibrant woman! She held parties each year to honor her health journey. She called them her ‘cancer-versary’ celebrations and would invite her friends and family members to her home each September to join her.  I was pleased to see her positivity and openness to try recommended clinical trials with Kaiser Permanente, she received alternative naturopathic care, and read voraciously all the research she could find on lung cancer.  She found purpose volunteering in her hometown at a non-profit called “Wellness Within,” a cancer support services center.  She literally decided to live her life fully despite her diagnosis.  Through it all, one of the most satisfying things for me, was to witness the inspiration and connections she made with other cancer patients, both online and in person. 

There was so much I learned about lung cancer through my volunteer work.  The pandemic emphasized the importance of lung health, but I’m reminded that Hawai‘i continues to fall far behind in national early lung cancer screening rates.  Based on research, in 2021 the United States Preventive Task Force expanded its lung cancer screening recommendation. This dramatically increased the number of women and Black Americans who are considered at high risk for lung cancer.

When I became an active member of ALA, I learned that 3% of high-risk people in Hawai‘i are actually screened for lung cancer. This is not acceptable considering Hawai‘I ranks #1 as the healthiest and happiest state.  Yet our lung cancer survival rate is less than 19%.  The stats are even worse for Native Hawaiians because they have a higher mortality rate than others in the state. 

My sister, Eleanor Grace, age 57, died peacefully at home right after Christmas in December 2015 with her loving husband at her side. She leaves behind two beautiful daughters, her sons-in-law, and two precious grandchildren. 

I have been on my own journey, one of healing and rebuilding through the grief of losing my very first BFF.   In my professional life, I am the workplace wellness manager for a local health insurance company, UHA Health, so health throughout the community is both my life’s work and my personal passion. 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 Hawai`i.

And we have three asks for you. 

  • Healthcare.  My sister was blessed to have health insurance.  Though we need to help lung cancer patients have access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage by supporting and protecting Medicaid.
  • Funding for the CDC.  Please support $11 billion for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to rebuild healthier communities and protect our nation’s health from disease, including lung cancer.
  • And finally funding for the NIH – National Institute of Health. I ask for your support of $51 billion in funding so we can have better treatments and improved early detection for lung cancer.

Mahalo and God bless.

First Published: January 26, 2021

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