Valarie Worthy, a registered nurse and treatment navigator at Duke University’s Duke Cancer Institute, is one of nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the U.S. Given her medical training and professional background, she admits “you would think one would be prepared for a cancer diagnosis, but any and every thing you learn goes out the window when you hear those words. I thought I was going to die.”
Worthy was diagnosed shortly after turning 40. Not only did she survive, but she went on to be a health advocate in her community (Durham). She created a local support group for African American women who are faced with the disease, helping them through the challenges that come with having and surviving breast cancer. Earlier this month, Worthy was one of 11 recipients of the American Cancer Society’s prestigious Lane W. Adams Award in recognition for her critical contributions to cancer caregiving.
In 2003, Worthy was inspired to start a local chapter of Sisters Network, a survivorship organization for African American women with breast cancer. Her goal was to create a community network of similar women, to provide support and resources to help African American women faced with breast cancer. She says “we don’t hear stories of surviving cancer in the African American community. We’re diagnosed at a later stage, and outcomes are poor. And, most of us [African Americans] don’t know how to support cancer survivors because we’re not used to people actually surviving cancer.”
“It was a challenge at first,” said Worthy. “Most of the women I talked to didn’t want to be part of a support group. I almost gave up, but I kept pushing.” Worthy’s friend, also diagnosed with cancer, decided to join her in starting a group. Then Worthy’s insurance agent also got diagnosed, and joined their group as well. Soon they had a total of six women in the group, and more joined later.
Worthy says a breast cancer diagnosis not only strengthened her faith, but it helped her become an advocate for the underserved. Her goal is to represent African American women who “have a voice but don’t know what to say.” Worthy has partnered with all organizations including the American Cancer Society, to provide resources and programs for African American women in her community. For Worthy, it’s all about community: “we know that there are barriers to care for African Americans. We can’t conquer the world, but we can empower a community to detect the disease earlier.”
Are you a cancer survivor looking for support? Visit the American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network – http://csn.cancer.org/