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Valerie Bates (left) was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer and says she is blessed to have support from friends and family, including former Roxana High School classmate Jenny Ravanh, with whom she has recently reconnected.
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An assortment of Jamberry Nails styles and colors.
Those who attended high school with Valerie Bates (maiden name Robinson) have said she is the type who would face hardships with courage and positivity — as it turns out, they were right.
After finding two spots during a self-exam, Bates received the news every woman dreads when going in to be checked.
“I had a couple of spots, but I wasn’t worried because they were sore and I had always heard that it’s not cancer if they hurt,” Bates, 42, says. “That is a myth, but it made me think there was no way it would be cancer.
“This all happened so fast. I went to the doctor for a checkup on July 7, 2014, and on July 31 I had a double mastectomy.”
Years before, she says her aunt discovered she had breast cancer, and three years later developed stage three cancer on the other side. Bates elected to have a double mastectomy to avoid a similar outcome.
Bates’ experience has been chronicled through her Facebook page, “Valerie’s Journey: God’s mercy in disguise,” a page she had to be talked into starting.
“I so did not want this to be about me, but people have told me it is important to get my journey out there for other people to see and learn from,” she says. “My 12-year-old son actually named the page from a line in a song that talks about how God’s blessings are sometimes in disguise.”
One of those “disguised blessings” has been the support coming from faces of the past. Jenny Ravanh (maiden name Hill) had lost touch with Valerie since the two women graduated together from Roxana High School in 1990.
“After school, we started careers, got married, had children and lost track of each other along the way,” Ravanh says. “(We later) reconnected, thanks to social media, and when I hosted an online Jamberry party last spring, Valerie attended and ended up enjoying the nail wraps as much as I did.
“We bonded over our excitement for this new adventure and the way it fit our lives so nicely.”
Bates decided to join the Jamberry Nails family just before receiving her cancer diagnosis.
“I was shocked, but she was upbeat and had made a plan with her team of doctors that included major surgery and chemotherapy treatments,” Ravanh says. “She continues to do well as a Jamberry consultant in addition to taking care of her family and spending time at her full-time job. In every picture she smiles; in every social media post she is gracious.”
Ravanh says she is not surprised by the outpouring of love and support from the people in Bates’ life, as she has always been there for others and exudes compassion and support in her own everyday life. Since her diagnosis, a “meal train” has been set up online, providing food delivered to her home on a regular basis; SJ Photography has committed to donating proceeds throughout October for Bates’ medical expenses; and a friend, Chris Coles, has been selling shirts and mugs online, with proceeds also going toward the rising treatment costs.
All of the support has not been monetary. Bates’ husband, Dereck, shaved his head as his wife began chemotherapy.
“It’s obvious that she has touched many lives,” Ravanh says.
Faced with the obstacle of distance (Ravanh lives in Champaign, Ill.; Bates lives in Brighton), Ravanh decided the best way to show support was to do what she knew.
“I have wanted to do more to show my support, but it’s been difficult to do from afar,” she says. “Friends, family and supporters can go to my website at www.jennyravanh.jamberrynails.net and shop for our famous nail wraps, lacquers, skincare products and accessories. Fill up your cart and be sure to choose Valerie’s Jamberry Fundraiser during checkout. I will donate my commission from every sale to help support Valerie and her family.”
Jamberry Nails was formed in 2010 by three sisters and features a colorful variety of nails in all colors and styles, offering economical do-it-yourself applications. The company has grown quickly in part due to its convenience for consultants, who can operate their businesses from home and have “online” parties to maximize social media contacts.
Ravanh is committed to raising as much for Bates as she can, donating 30 percent of every sale directly to the Bates family.
“Through this fundraiser we can all do a little something that can add up to a lot,” she says.
For Bates, reforming a bond with a childhood friend is one of the many positive events to come from a major challenge.
“This experience has brought Jenny and I back together, and I am grateful to God for that,” she says. “When going through something like this, you have to have a support system, and that sometimes comes from the most unexpected places.”
Bates is looking forward to this week’s final chemotherapy treatment. From there, follow-up appointments will be kept, as well as plans for reconstructive surgery early next year. Although she prefers living a simple life behind the scenes, she says she understands sometimes the spotlight is necessary to help others.
“Early detection is the key,” she says. “For me, I am blessed. They took all of the tissue, and it had not reached the lymph nodes.
“If my story can reach one person in time, then it is worth it.”