Feature Article, Open Wheels, Stock Cars, Washington — September 15, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Wes Valentine (issue 61)



By Craig Murphy

Wes Valentine started racing Hobbies at Elma in 1999 with a 1966 Chevelle. “I did pretty good that first year, got seventh in points,” he said. “For the second year I had a Camaro and did even better, finished third in points for 2000.”

Driving a different Camaro, Valentine finished 2001 second in points before taking the 2002 season off. “I wanted to do something else for a while,” he said. “I sold my equipment and moved to California for a while. But it was too hot in Fresno, so I moved back to Elma last June.”

Back in Elma, Valentine returned to the track and helped out people before building another Camaro. “I raced twice in 2003, coming out to get ready for this year,” he explained.

Shortly after returning to racing, things changed drastically.

“In August 2003, I found out I had throat cancer,” said Valentine, who noted he was the first in his family to have cancer. “I had a lump in my throat all the time and couldn’t swallow. I went to an ear, throat and nose specialist. He found a tumor on the farthest back part of the tongue, and cancer in the lymph nodes. The cancer had spread throughout my neck.”

The early prognosis wasn’t positive.

“I thought it was the end of my world,” Valentine recalled of his initial reaction. “I got pretty scared. They told me it was inoperable. We went over the scenarios of what to do.”

Since the cancer was inoperable, treatment was favored over surgery. Valentine had five weeks of chemotherapy, followed by 42 radiation treatments. “Radiation was by far the worst,” he said. “I’m claustrophobic, and when you go in, the lights are off and your head is bolted down.”

Valentine had to make some adjustments after the treatments. “Radiation is what burned everything out,” he said. “It burned the back of the throat, so my saliva glands are gone. I have to drink a lot of water with my food. No saliva is being made while I’m eating, so I need water because it dries out so fast.”

Other adjustments were physical. “Basically all I could do was walk,” he said. “I couldn’t lift anything since I had no upper body strength.”

Valentine had a tube that went into his stomach and mainly ate soft soup and water. “I made a point of trying to eat bread everyday, because I did not want to forget how to swallow,” he said.

For all his treatments, Valentine was accompanied by father Fred, one of many family members who supported him. “Everybody pumped me up all the time,” Valentine said. “They told me I would get better. I ended up believing it.”

According to what his doctors told him, Valentine was the youngest person in Washington to have his cancer when he was diagnosed last August. As such, his 45th birthday in late July was especially sweet.

“I was sure glad to see another birthday,” Valentine said. “At that time (August 2003), I didn’t think I would see another birthday.”

In March the treatments were done and Valentine was diagnosed as being rid of the cancer. With the help of friends, he started getting ready for the 2004 season.

“It was a big relief,” he said. “It took a lot off my mind. It had scared the hell out of me. Things started getting back to normal. I feel a lot better than I did a year ago.”

Valentine eats better now and is 60 pounds lighter. His expectations for this year were to simply have fun, and to get ready for a possible jump to Modifieds next year. “I’m saving my pennies – a lot of them,” he joked.

While initially gloomy when diagnosed, Valentine’s mood is clearly better now. He goes to support groups, talks with other cancer patients and participates in events like the Relay For Life cancer walk. When in the pits at Elma, it’s not unusual to see a smile on Valentine’s face.

“Everyone wants to know ‘Why do you have a smile on your face?’” Valentine said with a chuckle and smile. “I have a lot to be happy about.”

Valentine is too far behind to win the title at Grays Harbor on Sept. 4, though he will keep trying to win races including the upcoming Hobby Stock Shoot Out on Sept. 18.

Even without a win in that race or a championship, don’t expect Valentine to be down.

“Just getting on the track makes me feel like a winner,” Valentine said. “I didn’t think I would be out there.”

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