Val Campbell had a long day. It was Thanksgiving of 2016 and she had just spent the day eating and celebrating with family. She finally was able to crawl into bed late that night and much to her surprise, she felt a lump. She messaged her doctor and spoke with a nurse the next morning. “I went in on Black Friday and within a week, I got the call saying ‘it’s cancer.‘”
Val was 35 at the time, had no family history, was healthy all her life, did regular self-exams, and had also gone to her PCP and OB a few months prior – both of whom did breast exams and didn’t find anything. Val, rightfully, credits herself with performing regular self-exams and says if she hadn’t, things could have been much worse.
She started with a clinical trial and then opted for a double mastectomy. Despite the cancer only being in one breast, she felt strongly about getting rid of both as a preventative measure. After her surgery, Val began 4 rounds of chemo followed by 12 weeks of Taxol. While Val fought through like a total warrior, she’s the first to admit how bummed she was about having to do chemo after her surgery: “It was tough. I thought I could do my surgery and be done.”
What transpired after that was a year and a half full of hospital visits. Val was triple positive and because she was HER2-positive, she began Herceptin and continued on it for 6 months after she finished the Taxol. It wasn’t until April 2018 that she was finally done with transfusions. When asked if that was the moment she feels she became a survivor, she says no.
After her surgery, Val was deemed NED (no evidence of disease), but because she was young and strong, her doctors wanted to be extra aggressive in their treatment plan. After Herceptin, Val’s doctor wanted her to go on a pill for a year specifically for HER2-positive people. Val feared she would endure some of the brutal side effects she had heard about. In a brave moment of self-advocacy Val said she needed some time. She took the Summer off, enjoyed a return to some normalcy outside the walls of hospitals and enjoyed days that weren’t interrupted by infusions and doctors. Come September 2018, Val was ready to start on the prescribed pill and continued on it until September of 2019.
Of the experience she says, “One thing I said to myself throughout everything is that I would be so upset with myself if I didn’t do everything I possibly could to survive…When I finished that pill, I felt like a Survivor.”
There’s no doubt that Val Campbell is a fierce and strong woman. She worked throughout the entirety of her treatment. The only time she took time off from work was for her surgery. For her, work is a distraction and a means of pushing through – it helps keep her mind occupied and provided reprieve from being a woman fighting cancer. Her friend (and fellow first year Runway model) Nicole puts it simply: “Val showed up. Every day.”
Her two daughters – Olivia and Quinn – were 7 and 4, respectively, when she was diagnosed. She said Olivia was old enough to know what was going on and understand the magnitude of the situation, whereas Quinn was still a bit young. Val says their household didn’t sugarcoat anything; they used “the C word” in the house and made sure to be transparent with the girls. Val remembers right before her surgery she went to a Mother’s Day Tea at Quinn’s preschool and they had some artwork up on the walls describing what the kiddos thought of their mom’s. Quinn’s read “My Mom is Nice because she fight-ed cancer.”
Val’s advice to those newly diagnosed is to “make sure you have a solid support system and [for locals] we live near an amazing hospital that is world-renowned [Mass General], please please please please go there.”