Seneca woman facing terminal cancer diagnosis with no fear
By Stephanie Jadrnicek
SENECA — About four weeks ago, Valerie Scott-Wagner was given six to nine months to live.
All of her affairs are in order, and now, ironically, she’s got nothing left but time.
A Seneca resident, Scott-Wagner worked as a holistic therapist, specializing in fitness, nutrition, acupuncture, massage, yoga and Pilates.
“I let my practice go — no massage, no acupuncture, no training,” she said. “But here forward, if I’m going to get stressed out, this would be the time — because now I have time. And I know that time is limited, like we all do, but I have no idea — is it a week, is it two months, is it three? I don’t know. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to deal with that.”
Last year, she noticed her health was a little off. She thought she had had irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, because she could manage her symptoms through diet. But in March, her husband asked her if she’d really looked at herself in the mirror recently.
Standing before the mirror, she raised her shirt and turned to see her profile. Her abdomen bulged out from her thin frame, and suddenly she understood why she hadn’t been able to buckle a pair of usually baggy pants that morning.
She met on a Friday with her doctor, who scheduled a CT scan for the following Monday.
“I went in at 4 p.m., and she called by 4:45 p.m. She said I had a massive tumor at the sigmoid rectal junction, and it had metastasized into my liver,” Scott-Wagner said. “She could see at least four malignant tumors. And even though it was an abdominal scan and she couldn’t see the chest, she could see at least two tumors in the bottom lobe of my left lung.”
Her doctor knew she’d lost her mother only five years ago to ovarian cancer and advised her to ask the oncologist point blank: Will chemo or radiation get rid of it 100 percent?
“I looked down at my belly and I thought, ‘You know that’s not going to happen,’” Scott-Wagner said. “But I told her OK and left her office.”
Several days later, when the oncologist asked her if she knew what was going on, she told him that basically her whole abdomen was one giant ball of cancer. And when he recommended a liver biopsy, she asked why.
“He said so we could see what kind of cancer it is,” she said. “I told him it’s the terminal kind.”
Even before she found out she had cancer, she knew she wouldn’t choose chemotherapy or radiation.
“If it was something like a non-Hodgkin lymphoma tumor, and we could do three or four rounds of chemo and knock it out with an 80 percent success rate that it wouldn’t come back, that would be different,” she said. “But chemo is so destructive, it kills everything — good, bad or indifferent.”
She told her oncologist she’d do whatever she could do naturally. So she takes 65 milligrams of iron twice a day to counteract the bleeding from her gastrointestinal tract and receives blood transfusions about every two weeks. Every transfusion costs about $2,300, so she’s grateful for the generosity of friends, family and even complete strangers who’ve donated money through an online funding account set up by her colleagues.
A self-proclaimed control freak, Scott-Wagner set out to solve the problems she could. She visited the green cemetery at Ramsey Creek Nature Preserve in Westminster and picked out two plots between dogwood trees. She said it is somewhere pleasant she can rest until her husband one day joins her.
“I got all my finances straight, got the lawyers straight, got the burial straight and let everyone know via Facebook, because that’s such an easy way to reach people,” she said.
She’s mostly approached her diagnosis from a pragmatic and logical standpoint. But a few times, in the middle of the night, she’s broken down into tears and thought about how she doesn’t want to die. The next day, though, the pain reminds her that she’s ready.
“People say I’m approaching this with such calmness. I’m a Christian. I’m not a religious person, I don’t go to church, but I came to Christ in my early 30s,” she said. “In my belief system, either I die and I’m renewed in Christ and there’s no sin, sickness, disease or death or I can stay here and be in a lot of pain and take chemo and drugs — that doesn’t seem like a hard decision to me.”
As a naturalist, Scott-Wagner has never been keen on taking drugs. Last week during a bad spell, she told her husband she’d soon have to start getting medicine to help manage the pain. A caring man, he began looking for the hospice phone number to find morphine for his wife. But Scott-Wagner laughed and said, “Honey, I was thinking of some Tums and an Advil.”
That’s just her nature — she’s always used humor to cope with stress.
“Who was it, Abraham Lincoln, who said, ‘I laugh because I must not cry’?” she said. “What can I do? There’s no point in ranting and raving or screaming and crying.”
Although friends have invited her on trips to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, she has not accepted their invitations. And she hasn’t written a bucket list either.
“Speaking for myself, I don’t want to rush, run, go and do — I’ve been doing that my whole life. I just want to stop for a minute and be calm,” she said. “I think we spend so much time trying to make things the way we want. You can still control things and stack things in your favor, but you can also enjoy the ride.”
Every day she wakes up and looks for the good in life. And if there’s anything she’d like to say to those she’ll leave behind, it’s to let go of fear.
“My point is to try to get people to realize that there’s really nothing to be afraid of,” she said. “It’s just a natural part of the process. No one gets out of here alive, so let’s make it the best possible journey we can.”
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