Over 2 years ago Joan Valliere went to have her annual mammogram before she left for vacation with her family. A few days later she would get a call from her doctor that changed the course of her life.
Joan grew up in Newmarket, NH with her mom, stepdad and 4 siblings. Her stepdad, an immigrant from Poland during World War II, was a loving but stern father and mom was the type of mother that would do anything for her kids. “Mom was a very strong Christian and dad was a very strong catholic. Mom made sure that we would go to church. I grew up knowing who God was, but was I following him? I thought I was.”
When Joan entered her teenage years she started a rebellious time of partying in her life. “In my mind I kept on saying, ‘I’ll have time for Jesus later’. Thankfully God said, ‘I’ll give you time.’ There were times that I probably shouldn’t be here, ya know, drinking, being with people that were drinking and driving.” In her later teen years she grew out of that rebellious stage and soon began dating her future husband, Mark.
After 7 years of dating, Joan and Mark were married and had two children. “He was a catholic. Not a strong catholic, but a catholic.” Joan’s mom continually professed her faith to both Joan and Mark in a gentle and loving way, but was persistent because she wanted them to know the truth. “She would always be praying for us. She would talk to Mark about God and who Jesus Christ is.”
Two years after their eldest was born, Mark’s mom was in a car accident that left her in a vegetative state. A week after the accident his mom passed. “That was a difficult time. When you lose somebody you start to think about your own destiny. It left Mark wondering about his faith and where he may end up someday.” This began a faith journey for both Mark and Joan that would lead them to attend Durham Evangelical Church some years later.
About two years after Mark’s mom passed, Joan’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That was so devastating to me and my family because she had always been the rock in our family. She was the kind of person that had such a strong faith I thought I would be saved too! I thought ‘I had such a great mother. God wouldn’t turn me away!’” Joan’s mom fought breast cancer for two years before she passed, but a year after her passing Mark became a Christian. “Both of us really started to grow closer to God during the time she was sick. I would be sitting by her bedside and read her Scripture. I truly wasn’t following Jesus like I should have. He wasn’t my life. I was reading Scripture verses to her, thinking that I’m comforting her, but it was speaking to me.” God gave Joan an incredible peace, when her mom passed, knowing that her mom was in Heaven. This time in Joan’s life made her realize her need for a Savior and she soon became a Christian.
Over 20 years later, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer. Joan received a phone call from her doctor while on vacation with her husband and two children telling her that she had a malignant, invasive form of breast cancer. “I got off the phone and I dropped to my bed and I just started sobbing. It was like that sobbing when you lose somebody.” Joan was reminded of her mom, whom she had lost to breast cancer, and wondered if she would have the same fate.
As she laid on her bed, her two children came into her room. “They came in and hugged me and said, ‘Mom, it’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Don’t worry.’ I think what was happening was that the Spirit was within me. The Spirit was saying, ‘Remember; God is with you.’ I had claimed all these years that Jesus Christ was my Lord and Savior and that I will not fear. I just remember God saying, ‘I am with you always. I will never leave you or forsake you.’ I just held onto that promise.” She assured her kids that it was going to be okay and realized she had to show her kids she believed what she said she believed.
After vacation, Joan found out she had two cancerous lumps. This led to Joan needing surgery to remove the cancer. She went on to have a successful surgery, but once the surgery was over she had to decide what the treatment would be to prevent the cancer from returning. She did not want to do chemotherapy, but she realized that going through the treatments would save her life. Joan went through four treatments every six weeks. “That was a real test of my faith, just knowing what I would have to go through because of what I saw my mom go through.” Through the chemo Joan did not have severe side effects, but there were many dark days where Joan had to rely on God’s strength. “Through it all God sent so many people into my life, and this is what I’m really thankful for. I knew that I was not alone in this. I had my family, my church family, all my friends and most of all I had Jesus Christ in my life. I got through this through their encouragement and through their prayers. It was so humbling that people were doing this for me. I’m not used to that. To have to sit and be still, because I couldn’t do a lot, I remember thinking I wish everyone could feel this love.”
While Joan is thankful for her faith and the support of her church family, her biggest supporter was her husband, Mark. “He truly showed me what love meant and what love was. He was the best nurse! He walked beside me the entire way just loving me. He told me I was beautiful when I was going bald from chemo, and that was the LAST thing I felt. We’ve grown a lot. Our marriage has gone through the fire and it’s survived. Because of that I feel like we can do anything and because God’s with us.”
Joan is now two years recovered from her breast cancer and has retired along with her husband, Mark. Since her retirement she has been able to use her gifts to help those in need in the church and in the community. “I’m thankful that I got through it the way that I did. I’m thankful that my faith grew so strongly. I’m thankful for a lot of things, but mostly I’m just thankful for God being in my life, because without that I’d have nothing to be thankful for.”