Valerie Berry, Teamsters TITAN Operator
Things Are Starting to Look Up
TITAN Operator Finds A Support System to Live and Thrive Beyond Breast Cancer

"The first thing I thought was, 'I'm going to die.'"

Those were Valerie Berry's first haunting thoughts when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in March 2010 — thoughts that are all too common among breast cancer patients.

"That's the first thing a lot of people think," said Berry, Teamsters Local 700 Lead Titan Operator and member. "As far as emotions go, I can't say I don't have them, but I try to put them on the back burner to get through my treatments."

Berry has undergone several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy in the last year, something she describes as a roller coaster ride that often leaves her completely drained.

"It's so hard because you get this burst of energy, then the next thing you know, you're exhausted," said Berry, 45. "It's like that all the time."

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and more than 40,000 diagnosed women die from the disease each year. Breast cancer also affects men, with roughly 2,000 diagnosed annually.

Though her fight against breast cancer continues, Berry said her strong support base of family, friends and co-workers is what has gotten her through the worst of it.

"Val has always been an energetic addition to the office and has been a comforting member of our staff for nearly 15 years," said John T. Coli, Local 700 Trustee. "When she was diagnosed last year, no one stopped to think twice about helping and supporting her in any way. This hits home for me in a very real way. When my wife, Jo Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer, I saw firsthand how important it is for friends and family to show support."

On especially hard days, Berry's family and friends make frequent visits to her home to help with household chores and errands, which Berry said become enormous tasks when she is exhausted from treatment.

"My friends and family come over to help me clean and cook, and everyone at Local 700 was very lenient and understanding," Berry said.

"We expect all employers to be fair and treat their employees with respect," said Coli. "If we're going to demand that of others, we have to set the example, and this is just one way we have done that."

Some of those friends include former co-workers at Loyola University Medical Center. Before joining the Teamsters, Berry worked as an administrative assistant in the critical care division.

"That's why I chose to go to Loyola for my treatments," said Berry, a lifelong Chicagoan. "I knew it was a good place because I worked there, and it definitely makes me feel better to see familiar faces."

As she started to respond positively to treatments, Berry became energized to support others battling breast cancer. She is featured in the book "Life Beyond Breast Cancer," published by the American Cancer Society and available this summer in print and on the ACS website.

"The book is a way for recently diagnosed African American women to learn how to cope and see how other women reacted," she said. "It's very encouraging when you realize you're not alone in how you're thinking."

Berry also has participated in several classes through Loyola University Medical Center. She will give a talk about her experience fighting breast cancer in April.
Though exhausting and endlessly frustrating, Berry said her experience will stick with her and continue to shape the way she lives her life.

"I'm going to stay active for breast cancer awareness," she said. "For those who are also fighting, don't take this as a death sentence. You can beat it. It's a lot of work, but the outcome of beating it will be so much better than the experience of fighting it."

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