WEST RICHLAND -- Darlene Varley is living proof that the key to beating cancer is research, and the West Richland woman has made it her mission to increase funding to battle the disease.
In the early 1970s, Varley was in her mid-30s and was married with three young children. Then her husband, Harry, was diagnosed with cancer. His particular version didn't even have a name, but it was nasty. A tumor had wrapped around his aorta, then spread throughout his body.
"We knew the prognosis was not good," she said. "He lived almost two years."
One of the chemotherapy drugs he was given was just coming out of the experimental stage. Doctors figured it would give him a few more months but would ultimately be a cause of his death, so he went on the drug and it extended his life long enough to provide his family with a few blessings.
"We had a wonderful six months and celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary," she said.
Fast forward a quarter-century. Varley was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she talked to her doctor about the chemo drugs she would be given, one was the drug Harry had been administered -- and was listed on his death certificate as one of the causes of death. She told the doctor she had no interest in putting it in to her body.
But during the 25 years between Harry's death and her diagnosis, research had improved the drug's use, and it played a huge role in her recovery.
"It couldn't save Harry's life, but it did save mine," she said. "That's why I'm so passionate about research dollars."
Thanks to her 28 years working closely with scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Varley understood the importance of research.
Because of the cancers that touched her life, she became an advocate.
In the late 1980s, she volunteered for the American Cancer Society, selling daffodils each January as a fundraiser and later helping organize the local Relay for Life. She also is heavily involved in the Cancer Action Network, the advocacy arm of the cancer society. One year, she was invited to go to Olympia to talk to legislators about cancer research. Since 2006, she has traveled annually to Washington, D.C., to deliver her message to Capitol Hill.
Just last week, she returned from her sixth trip to the nation's capital. While she was there, she let lawmakers know that this year, more than 35,000 people in Washington will be diagnosed with cancer, and almost 12,000 will die. Research, she preaches, can save lives -- just as it saved hers.
"I want to keep cancer research a national priority."
Interested in helping? Call Varley at 967-3409.