Valencia Hardaway isn't one to shy away from hard work. In fact, she loves a good challenge. "I held two jobs, six days a week, and thought life couldn't get any better!" she exclaims when she reflects back to 1993 when she was co-owner of a hair salon in Atlanta and worked as a clerk at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Before being diagnosed with IBD, Valencia was the picture of perfect health. She was a cheerleader during high school in Atlanta. After graduation, she attended cosmetology school and earned her license as a Master Cosmetologist. She and her aunt opened D & V Hair Salon. She had even moved into her own apartment and was enjoying her freedom.
She didn't know her positive outlook on life was about to be tested the following year in a way she could never have imagined. "That's when my world was turned upside down," she says. In 1993, Valencia was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. By March of 1994, Valencia had the first of several surgeries.
Between March and December, Valencia underwent nine operations. Her weight plummeted from 170 pounds to 98 pounds.
Valencia suffered through a life-threatening infection, but eventually her fever broke. A few nights later, Valencia remembers her stunned doctor sitting in her room holding her hand. "He was staring at me and said 'You are truly a miracle.'"
Along with her faith, her family, and her pastor, Valencia credits her ostomy nurse with helping her deal with her ostomy during those early days of recovery. Now the nurse calls on Valencia to counsel others facing similar situations.
It's no wonder Valencia declares, "I'm celebrating each and every day.” Today Valencia is not only looking forward to returning to work in cosmetology, she’s also helping to raise her nephew while her sister continues a career in journalism.
“I really wanted to win the Great Comebacks® Award so that when I counsel other people, I can point out what’s happened to me,” she explains. “It’s not the end…it’s the beginning of living a productive life.”