When one of my best friends and co-host of my nationally (and internationally) broadcast radio and television programs was not feeling well – really not feeling well – for a very long period of time, I, as anyone would be, was very concerned. As a Food Healing and Fitness Nutrition Certified health expert and healthy “bikini” lifestyle advocate, I was even further concerned. What about my friend’s diet and lifestyle could I help with? What could I do?
As it turns out, a whole team of doctors, loved ones and health advocated could – and did – restore my dear friend to health. Here is his healing and inspiring story as told to me by the cancer survivor himself, Steve Valentine:
“I am Grateful. Grateful for what I have learned over the last year and a half. I am Steve Valentine. To be here today is most definitely a blessing from a higher power that I am still trying to comprehend. I am not the only miracle. God’s hand in directing the intellect, talent, precision, competence and caring of my entire medical team is how I stand in front of you today. To Dr. Reidel who found the Burkett’s cancer, Dr. Fuller, the surgeon that eradicated the cancer, Drs Miller, Hutchins and Ancheta that project managed my treatment and recovery, along with every other department every nurse, aide, and staff such as Tom, Dawn, Rashida, the gal that carefully but painfully un-adhered my stomach wound bandages daily, and so many others that attended to my needs… to all of them here at Scripps Green that shared my hope that I would live again, work again, dance again… THANKS IS NOT ENOUGH! Engrained in me is a new compassion for the doctors and nurses on the front lines of defeating the myriad cancers that threaten lives.
My name is Stephen. My parents named me after a man in the Bible who was a communicator. He went from town to town giving important news. That communication ability for me took the form of dance throughout my life and may have contributed to saving my life. High school and college were the disco years where I taught and competed, often winning contests in the USA and abroad with my sister Terry and ex-girlfriend, Cindy. I strived to communicate joy, that life is fun exciting… I had my own TV show in college at Ole Miss that was titled, “Keep on Dancing with Steve Valentine”. Through my dance and my show, I was able to communicate in a fun and entertaining way that people are different, talented and worthy. More recently, dance helped me to gain acceptance and reach out to an underserved community. I organized the Same Sex Ballroom Dance classes in West Hollywood. I began competing (as others did) and would go on to win titles in San Francisco, Montreal, Canada, and ultimately winning a Gold medal at the Gay Olympics in Germany in 2010. I have always felt empowered through the art of dance to show strength, beauty, fearlessness, and accomplishment.
Here is where the ball dropped. In January 2015, I entered Scripps Green for a now realized lifesaving emergency surgery which was a miracle procedure after more than a year of pain, nowhere questioning, endless visits to the emergency room, urgent care facilities, and more. Endless days and months of pain and frustration, suddenly I was in the healing care of the doctors at “Green” and from my room I was soothed by beautiful views of the golf course and ocean. I remember seeing colorful balloon floating by while a parade of experts tried to discern what was wrong with me… inside and out. There is A LOT I don’t remember. I am told I was even conducting my PR (Public Relations) job in the hospital, planning a celebrity event while on morphine. OY! No one said then, as I have now come to know, that most of the doctors and staff thought I would not make it.
Through all of this, I came to know Dr. Irene Hutchins. She came via Tom Friedman in Social Services. I was told that Dr. Hutchins was not only a physician but was (and is) also a former competitive dancer. Imagine my excitement! She was warm, beautiful, concerned and comforting. She was one of my doctors! and She was a competitive dancer! God was and is good! I was enthused, elated, excited, comforted and also felt closure knowing that my journey would be shared by a consummate professional and someone who was like me… that knew a love for dance, knew how their body performed not only from a medical perspective but one from an athletic, creative, artistic point of view. With my competition photos of me dressed in feathers, boas, and sequins taped to my hospital room wall, our conversations grew more robust as I endured what seemed (and were) endless rounds of intensive 24-hour chemotherapy treatments, additional surgeries, relapses, and at least 5 more intrathecal treatments over the next 6 months.
I made it through. I made it through by engaging as part of her team… engaging in the hope to eat, poop, walk, work and yes, dance! My partner, James Miller, took the brunt of it all when Dr. Hutchins handed me off to him for daily care. James was loving (and still is), accepting, patient, kind, and steadfast. My mom, Vinnie Valentine, my heart, was there, too, at the worst of times and all the way from Tennessee. My mom… my Vinnie, taught me to dance at a very young age. At the time, she had no idea, nor did I, what a positive, hopeful, lifesaving impact dance would have on my life. And, I must say, my dog, Olympia… just having to walk her during this time helped me heal. Her face licks, kisses and walks got me up and out of bed at times when I felt I could not lift a finger.
I became cancer-free in the Fall of 2016. Dr. Hutchins, our dance coach, our psychiatrist Arkday, her former dance partner and I started dancing socially each month at Mary Murphy’s Champion Dance Studio at the Marriott. We shared conversations in dance on the floor and off. We realized a unique bond was being choreographed through a tragedy. Here – on the dance floor – we became more than patient / doctor. Our relationship transformed to dance partners and friends. It is rare that a patient or a doctor really gets to share in each other’s lives. It has made us both better people and much smarter at what each of us does every day. I adore Dr. Hutchins and am so happy we were destined to meet and that she helped provide me the hope that I needed to survive.
Through this journey, I have gained more patience than ever before. I understand the importance of maintaining hope and the desire to keep striving through any challenge, keep working and pushing your body and mind, and not to spend too much time retracing the steps of your past (AMEN!).
We have been blessed with many media outlets sharing our story… we are so grateful and honored and it is our utmost hope that others will feel encouragement, joy and healing through the sharing of our story.
At present, we are excited to announce a fundraising effort to benefit those with similar health conditions. To donate or for more information, please email: Janet.Hamada@lls.org Proceeds benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.