Valerie Tolliver


In June of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was diagnosed with stage 1A uterine cancer. 

In August, a complete hysterectomy followed after which I began the long road of recovery.  Both my ob/gyn and my oncologist made recovery sound like it would be a “piece of cake”.  However, in my experience the physical recovery was, and still is, anything but a “piece of cake”. And perhaps worse, has been the mental/emotional trauma that occurred, to which no one even alluded. 

Realizing I needed to talk to someone, I searched the internet for support groups in my area.  The only ones I found were for women receiving radiation and chemotherapy.  I was blessed not to have radiation or chemotherapy but that fact only heaped guilt upon my already fragile emotional state.  Even television programs were upsetting because of the frequent cancer commercials.  

My next step was to contact people I knew who had battled cancer and ask to speak to them but that didn’t work out very well.  I couldn’t even talk to my husband about what I was experiencing because nothing seemed to make any sense. I began a downward spiral that caused my oncologist to suggest anti-depressant medication which I refused.

I’m an extrovert who was already feeling the negative affects of pandemic isolation when cancer reared its ugly head and feelings I didn’t understand seemed to take over.  I felt like I had been abandoned on an island with no life-lines.  I had shut down mentally and emotionally.  I used all of the strength I could muster just to get through each day.  I felt as though I was barely existing.

Then my SMILE bag arrived.

The mailman brought it to my door and handed it to me.  I didn’t know what it was but was hesitant after seeing “Cancer” in the return address.  Upon opening the package, I was greeted by a bright green fabric bag printed with a big smile. I opened the bag and began pulling out its contents.  There was a pack of brand-new colored pencils and a coloring book with a note of encouragement stuck on its cover.  “How did the sender know that I like to color?”  Next was a pocket-sized package of tissues encased in a brightly colored hand-made cloth cover containing a note tucked inside about how it was okay to cry.  “How did the sender know that I always carry a package of tissues in my pocket or purse?”  At this point, I took out and used one of those tissues!  The next items to tumble out were several beautiful hand-made greeting cards.  At first, I admired the outsides, assuming they were blank inside.  However, upon opening each one, I found more notes of encouragement.  “How did the sender know I cherish cards, especially those that are hand-made?” Another tissue was needed.  And so it went.  More items.  More encouragement.  A card telling me about the organization that put the bags together, an invitation to visit their website, an invitation to join their private Facebook group, and a note identifying the person who asked them to send me the bag.

I wish I could adequately explain what happened to me during that half-hour I sat at the table with my SMILE bag, but words fail me.  Because of that bag, I no longer felt alone.  Reading some of the stories on the BSNCF website and Facebook pages gave me some of the words I needed to communicate my experience.  I felt encouraged to get up and start seeking help again.  And I’m encouraged to share my story.

Please join me in the Virtual BSNCF Run/Walk. Let’s take a stand together and support other women like me.

  • Valerie Tolliver, St. Louis, MO