Valerie’s Story: How Early Cancer Detection Led to Pre-Symptomatic Diagnosis
January 10, 2023
Transcription

Kim Thiboldeaux 00:09
Welcome to The Cancer SIGNAL, a new podcast presented by GRAIL where we discuss the impact of early cancer detection, the science behind multi-cancer early detection and insight into how this approach has the potential to shift the cancer paradigm. I’m your host Kim Thiboldeaux. Our guest today is Valerie who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, and has worked in real estate for the past 35 years. At 54 years old, she leads an active lifestyle with family and friends, including her six year old granddaughter and a poodle puppy. She recently took the Galleri test which found a positive cancer signal, and cancer signal origins for pancreas, gallbladder cancer and breast cancer. And she’s joining us today to share her story. Welcome, Valerie. Thank you for joining us.

Valerie 00:56
Thanks, Kim. It’s my pleasure.

Kim Thiboldeaux 00:58
So Valerie, I told a little bit about your story. But why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself so our listeners can get to know you?

Valerie 01:06
Sure. So I have lived in Flagstaff for over 40 years. And I have a very active lifestyle. I’m 54 years old. And I have a lot of life ahead of me to lead. So keeping up with a granddaughter who’s six, and, and my husband and friends. It’s just a, it’s a, it’s a great life that I have. And I want to keep it.

Kim Thiboldeaux 01:39
Fantastic. Fantastic. Valerie, can you tell us, do you have a family history of cancer? Do you have any known cancer risk factors?

Valerie 01:49
You know, I don’t. My father who is almost 80 has prostate cancer. But I don’t think that that’s something that’s a risk to me at all. So I, I would basically say no.

Kim Thiboldeaux 02:07
Tell us Valerie, do you participate in the guideline recommended screenings your doctors suggest for cancer for example, mammography, colonoscopy? You know, have you been, have you been doing those screenings for yourself?

Valerie 02:21
Um, I, it’s a great question I’ve done… I had actually a mammogram, maybe a month and a half before I had the test.

Valerie 02:33
And so I have been doing those things. One of the, one of the reasons I thought, and I’ve since learned that this is not the case, one of the things I thought, oh, when you check 50 kinds of cancer was, oh, maybe I don’t have to do a colonoscopy. And I found out that that’s not the case, you still have to do it. But that was one of the reasons that I had done that, and I haven’t, but I’m going to do that colonoscopy now.

Kim Thiboldeaux 03:03
Yeah, it’s important that this test does not take the place of all of our standard cancer screenings. You’re absolutely right.

Kim Thiboldeaux 03:12
Let me ask you, how did you hear about the Galleri test? Why were you interested in taking the test?

Valerie 03:18
Um, you know, I had read the Tony Robbins book, Lifeforce. You know, it talks about breakthroughs in precision medicine. And I saw the test. And I thought, you know, that is such a great thing for me to do, at my age, to have a baseline for my health, I was planning on taking it, maybe taking it and then doing it every single year, just to keep an eye out. I mean, it’s so simple and fast for me. And I was, I’m grateful that I read the book and found the test and, and moved forward on them.

Kim Thiboldeaux 03:58
So Valerie, what did you think about the idea of a blood test that detects a signal shared by multiple types of cancer? When you first heard about it? What was your reaction

Valerie 04:10
I thought it was genius. I thought, you know, there, what I had read, or what I understood was that there are not cancer tests for a lot of these types of cancers. And so there would be absolutely no way to even test for that. And through my experience, I had, I had absolutely no symptoms with my gallbladder. So I would never have even thought to take a test. With no symptoms, you don’t put that on your list of to do’s, you know. And so it was, it’s fascinating. And if you’re going to do a simple blood test and get the information on 50 kinds of cancers, where do I sign? You know, this is, it was awesome.

Kim Thiboldeaux 05:03
Okay, so you read about the test and in the book. You thought oh based on my age and all the other things that are going on a good idea for me to get this test. So then tell us what happened next. Did you talk to your doctor? You know, how did you get the test? Did you encounter any difficulties in terms of getting access to the test?

Valerie 05:23
Right. Um, I went, I went ahead and I talked to my naturopath, who is pretty much a primary care person. I wanted to, I had to have a prescription to get the test. And she actually told me that she would not do it. She didn’t have information on it. And I told her, it’s, it’s a simple blood test, and I just needed her to say, okay, and she said, No, I’m gonna, I need to, I need to wait. I haven’t heard about it. So I said, Well, that’s okay. So then I went to a second person who was a nurse practitioner. He was at a health care system here in Flagstaff. And he said, he wasn’t going to do a prescription for me. And I, I said, Listen, it’s my body and my choice. It’s just a simple blood test, like I was, I was shocked that it was so difficult to actually get somebody on board to really understand, you know, just the science behind it, or what it was that I was trying to do. They, I mean, in retrospect, they said it was really expensive test to get this information. But, Kim, I think it was pretty inexpensive. Looking at the big picture for me. So I ended up going online. And, you know, they have the physicians from telemedicine. So I filled out the form online, which is very simple. And then I got the prescription and got the test.

Kim Thiboldeaux 07:05
So, Valerie, I think a lot of people would have given up after the first doctor, a lot of people would have given up after the second doctor, but you didn’t. Why were you so determined to get the test? Despite those hurdles, you seemed pretty dogged about getting this test?

Valerie 07:23
Right. Well, I mean, it’s a great question. And I don’t know, I just felt, I’ve felt like, it’s just so smart and so easy. And for my health. You know, I really wanted that information. The more they told me no, the more I was like, This doesn’t make sense to me. And I need to move forward and figure out how to do this.

Kim Thiboldeaux 07:49
So Valerie, how did you, so you went online, you had a telemedicine consult? How did you receive your results? Who delivered them? How were they delivered? And you know, what was your reaction when you got the results? Tell us about the results

Valerie 08:04
Well, I received a call from the physicians, the telemedicine physicians, and there was actually two people on the call. And they told me that they detected a positive signal. And they walked me through what the next steps would be. And they said, we really encourage you to get an MRI. And I ended up getting an abdominal MRI and then a chest MRI. And like I said, I had done a mammogram like a month before. So I thought well, that’s probably, I’m probably fine on that. But we should check out the the gallbladder pancreas signal.

Kim Thiboldeaux 08:51
And so the diagnosis then that was eventually delivered after those diagnostic tests, MRI, etc. They told you that you had gallbladder cancer, is that correct?

Valerie 09:01
They actually didn’t. They- when I have the MRI, the doctor who read the MRI said I don’t see cancer. But what I do see is that your gallbladder is very angry. And I’ve never seen anything with so many stones in it. So you have to have that removed. And I said, you know, I’ve got a lot of trips planned and I said is this something that I need to do in the next month or the next six months? Like tell me, tell me what I’m looking at so I can schedule this in? And he said, and I’m grateful for this…he said stop it. You need to have this. You need to have your gallbladder removed in the next month. And so I shifted my schedule and got that surgery in. So fast forward to the surgery. I… The day after the surgery, which was fine. You know, I just had my gallbladder removed. They had gotten the pathology results back, and I’ll be darned if there wasn’t a four and a half centimeter tumor in my gallbladder. And I said that, wow. Okay. All right. Now I’ve got to learn all about cancer and what are the steps forward. But the doctor, my surgeon, had taken out 1500 gall bladders. And this was the third he saw that appeared to be cancerous to him. So he basically knew what he was doing. He took a tiny bit of the liver, because he knew what was kind of coming. And a cut of two lymph nodes, which were very helpful in moving forward with my next surgery plans. So I was grateful to him for recognizing what it was he was seeing, and being able to take a little proactive approach for me.

Kim Thiboldeaux 11:11
So really, really amazing, quite, quite compelling. Valerie, so, so I understand that you’re currently undergoing chemo. But I also understand that you ran a 5k turkey trot around Thanksgiving. So is it safe to say that you’re feeling well? Tell me what’s happening with you now.

Valerie 11:31
Right. Um, so the standard of care for me is, I had a surgery to make sure that there was absolutely no more cancer in my body, which has been very successful. And, and then I’m doing six months of chemotherapy, because we were able to catch it soon, I’m able to do my chemotherapy as pills. And so I’m two weeks on, one week off, and I, I mean, I, I feel good. I’m on chemo this week, and you know, I have a lot of energy and I’m able to work, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But, um, it, you know, I, I’m relatively unaffected by this process. And I, 100% think it’s because it didn’t get to that liver, like it was kissing the liver. And at that time, and so we caught it before it became more of a problem for me.

Kim Thiboldeaux 12:44
And Valerie, as I said in the opening, also able to be serving that role as as grandma and a new parent to a to a poodle puppy. Tell us about that.

Valerie 12:54
Well, that you think, you think the 5k was a lot, I have to walk that dog a lot, definitely. My granddaughter who’s six, lives in Flagstaff, and we’re able to spend a lot of time with her. This afternoon, she has an early release day, and I’m gonna take her swimming. So, you know, I, I’m just grateful that my lifestyle and all the things that are important to me, are really not that affected because of what could have been a bad outcome. Like I, I am so blessed to have such a great outcome on this.

Kim Thiboldeaux 13:34
Valerie, did this experience change how you view or think about a cancer diagnosis and just general big picture?

Valerie 13:41
Um, you know, I didn’t, because it’s really not in our family. It’s not something that was front and center, we didn’t really think about it or talk about it. But what I do think is that I, I’m just, I’m so glad that I did this. And I’ll tell, I’ll tell you something interesting. When I first went to get this test, especially because it was so hard. I asked my husband and I said, Hey, are you going to do this? I’ll do this with you at the same time. And he said, No, I don’t want to know. And which was shocking to me. And I was like, I am exactly the opposite. Like I want to know, this is, this is important to me. And so after this process, I said okay, now do you want to know and he said, Yeah, I’ll do…I’m gonna do this after we get all your stuff squared away. So I said good. And you know, Kim I think it, I think it takes courage for people to take the test, especially the first time because there, there’s 50 kinds of cancers that you could you could find out that you have, you know, like me, they’re like, Well, you know, is it? Is it better not to know, is it better to know? For me, it’s better to know. So that’s how I can sit here with energy and continue my, my life right now.

Kim Thiboldeaux 15:13
Yeah, they say Information is power. Right? And that, and we know how important that that screening and early detection is in cancer.

Valerie 15:22
Mm hmm.

Kim Thiboldeaux 15:23
Absolutely. Valerie, what would you say you sort of knew about cancer screening before this whole, you know, this whole process? I mean, were you going to a doctor regularly were screenings being recommended, did you have a sense or perception about screening?

Valerie 15:38
The, the screening experience that I had, or the information that I had about screening, was that you got your mammogram, you had a pap smear every five years if it came up negative. And now that I’m in my early 50s, now I need to have a, you know, colonoscopy. So that’s the extent of, and I thought, okay, I guess if you do all those things, then you’re fine. Right? And that is apparently the opposite of the right answer. So that’s not the case, especially for me.

Kim Thiboldeaux 16:17
What did you know, or understand or believe about the importance of early detection of cancer before this versus what you know now?

Valerie 16:27
Well, I think that the early detection, which, which is what made so much sense, when I read that book. It said, If you catch it at stage one, or stage two, you can, you know, it’s not this huge life changing project that you’re in. It doesn’t, it doesn’t change your whole life. You have the ability, when, or I have the ability, when you can really run offense on your with your health, and make really good decisions, you have a lot more options, when it’s early detection than if you are at stage three or stage four, then a lot of your options are taken away from you. So, I, that’s what, that’s what I wanted to do.

Kim Thiboldeaux 17:22
And Valerie what what would you say you learned from this experience that would be helpful to others who are maybe curious about the test, trying to get the test or going through the process? On through, you know, what, what do you think would be helpful for others to, to know, from your own experience?

Valerie 17:39
You know, based on my experience with this, it’s, it is so easy. It’s there’s absolutely nothing hard about getting the box, taking it to your local lab, having your blood drawn, and having so much information about your health that quickly. So I would just, based on my experience, I would say just stick with it. And, and really encourage people along the way. I, I looped back around to the two doctors that told me no, and I let them know what my result was. And they said, what well, one of them said, That’s really great information. And now I’m going to learn more about it. And I have a couple of patients that I think this would be helpful for. So, I, just getting the word out. And really understanding that this is, this is something that has made such a difference for myself and my family in our lives. Like this is a pivotal point in our life. And we luckily, are on the right road.

Kim Thiboldeaux 18:53
So you’ve now now become an educator and an advocate as well you’re advocating for, for others, which is really very, very inspiring. Before we go Valerie, it’s been such a joy spending time with you and hearing your story and I really appreciate you opening up and sharing your story because I do think it will be an inspiration for so many but Valerie just tell me your, your, your thoughts and hopes for the future. Well, what are your what are your plans? You have this granddaughter this new, very demanding, demanding puppy, you’re obviously very active. But when you think about we’re coming up on the holidays when you know, new year starting what are your thoughts and hopes for the future for you and your family?

Valerie 19:32
Well, my thought and hope is that in another five months when I’m finished with the chemo like this is actually going to be just a dim memory. And I don’t know that I would have been able to say that if we fast forwarded a year and I was having symptoms like that. That’s how, how scary it was. And I, I thought, You know what, I might buy a lottery ticket because I’m feeling lucky, you know?. Yeah, I’ve got, I’ve got my trips back on my schedule. And um the end of May, is the conclusion of the chemotherapy. I already have friends, booking resorts and parties and celebrations. So I mean, that’s what we should do with our friends anyway, right? Is celebrate. This just gives us a really good excuse to have another party.

Kim Thiboldeaux 20:34
Excellent. Well, we’ll be right there with you celebrating Valerie and again, I thank you so much for joining us on the show today and we will keep in touch and want to continue to follow your story. This is The Cancer SIGNAL presented by GRAIL. I’m Kim Thiboldeaux. Tune in next time to learn more about the impact of early cancer detection.

Important Safety Information

The Galleri test is recommended for use in adults with an elevated risk for cancer, such a those aged 50 or older. The Galleri test does not detect all cancers and should be used in addition to routine cancer screening tests recommended by a healthcare provider. Galleri is intended to detect cancer signals and predict where in the body the cancer signal is located. Use of Galleri is not recommended in individuals who are pregnant, 21 years old or younger, or undergoing active cancer treatment.

Results should be interpreted by a healthcare provider in the context of medical history, clinical signs and symptoms. A test result of “No Cancer Signal Detected” does not rule out cancer. A test result of “Cancer Signal Detected” requires confirmatory diagnostic evaluation by medically established procedures (e.g. imaging) to confirm cancer.

If cancer is not confirmed with further testing, it could mean that cancer is not present or testing was insufficient to detect cancer, including due to the cancer being located in a different part of the body. False-positive (a cancer signal detected when cancer is not present) and false-negative (a cancer signal not detected when cancer is present) test results do occur. Rx only.