MISSION VIEJO… In September of 2017 Valarie Lemm went in for her annual mammogram at Hoag Hospital Newport Beach. A few days later she and her husband set off for a three-week road trip that will always stick out in her mind. It’s on this road trip that she got a call from one of the radiologists that she needed to come back in for a repeat mammogram – something wasn’t right. After her follow-up mammogram, the radiologist informed Valarie that she likely had breast cancer in both breasts and that she would need to return for biopsies. “I got in immediately for those biopsies and remember the Hoag radiologist having a sense of warmth and comfort that I needed in a time when so much is unknown.” Unbeknownst to Valarie the radiologist’s attitude would set the tone for her entire cancer journey.
When Valarie met with Hoag breast surgeon Dr. Lincoln Snyder she learned she had stage 1A breast cancer – a stage that is very treatable and survivable because it’s detected early. “Get your mammograms. They work,” exclaims Valarie. “I feel so blessed the machine picked up the difference from one year to the next.” In December of 2017 Valarie underwent breast surgery with the support of her immediate family, friends, and her second family: the California-Hawaii Elks Association, which serves disabled children, veterans, and our youths in a wide range of activities. Valarie is a long-time member and former first lady of the Huntington Beach Elks Lodge. “Cancer is horrible. To have been blessed with the positivity from my family, friends and the doctors is really what made me okay to go through this,” says Valarie. She remembers all the Hoag doctors and staff at Hoag to be reassuring and comforting. “They didn’t panic, why should I panic,” says Valarie. “When you have Cancer you can’t allow a different emotion other than what you are surrounded by and I fed off that.”
Valarie’s friend and fellow Santa Ana Elks First Lady Maria Bisbee recalls Valarie having such a bubbly, positive personality throughout her treatment that she became inspired to gather a group of her fellow Elks to raise money in Valarie’s honor and help children in the community. “You would never have known what she was going through based on the way she handled herself and her outlook,” recalls Maria.
Maria and her group started to sew bears to sell for children in the community. Each bear has a hand with a heart on the palm sewn in red on a pink heart. Representing Valarie’s First Lady theme, “The Loving Hands of Elkdom.” Collectively the group made 100 bears for distribution. Through selling the bears and generous donations by both community and Elks members, Maria raised $1,000 for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute in Valarie’s honor. “We try to have the most fun while raising money and giving it away,” says Valarie. “We were so thrilled to do this for Valarie and all she has been through”, says Maria
It’s now been a year since her surgery and Valarie still has a warm, bubbly demeanor. Valarie recalls, “I came in with a positive attitude and came out with just as positive of an attitude – all because of the wonderful doctors and staff at Hoag, and my circle of friends at the Elks.” Valarie is now in remission and has a sense of accomplishment, pride and love for what her friends have done in her honor. She feels blessed to have had a group come together to support an organization that is close to her heart and at the same time contributing to children in our community that have suffered a tragedy. “This will touch my life forever,” Valarie exclaims with a big smile. By Andy Costello, Mission Viejo Saddleback Valley Elks, Photos:Elks