Today, we marched in celebration. One year, three months and two days ago, Nicole Aders defeated cancer.
But, like in many great battles, victory wasn’t won without overcoming tragedy.
Nicole’s story often goes untold.
The preliminary chapters seem normal enough: a blue-eyed, sunshine-haired girl is born into a stable, loving Indiana family.
As the pages turn, she grows exceptional: a straight-A student, a varsity athlete, a student council officer, a confident young woman. Her boisterous personality could overwhelm a room, terrify freshmen and win awe-inspired admiration all at once.
We were best friends.
We were always laughing or crying or screaming about something. We bumped Beyoncé and Fall Out Boy and Kanye in her Jeep Liberty (appropriately referred to as ‘”Lady Liberty”) every weekend.
We stayed out until 9 a.m. and resumed our studies on Mondays after greasy McDonald’s breakfasts (burned off after volleyball practice) and juicy tell-alls (burned into our memories forever).
Next came college—a direct admission to the Kelley School of Business occupied Nicole’s time. My journalism major and hours spent reporting set me on a different track.
We became roommates, and then sisters.
Neighbors could probably hear us shrieking back and forth.
“You’re psychotic, Nicole!”
“You’re so RUDE, Danielle!”
“Clean up the dishes!”
“Clean up your act!”
Our tiffs ranged from 15 minutes to an hour. Mortal combat always faded to sheepish apologies and trips to Taco Bell.
Then, Nicole started getting cysts on her ovaries. If one would burst, she’d writhe bedridden for hours. We offered her heating pads and get-well wishes, but never found the problem to be truly threatening.
Didn’t a lot of girls deal with cysts?
But when she discovered a lump—a physical, tangible lump—in her lower abdomen three days before spring break, I began to worry.
A lump—like, a tumor lump?
She urged us to go on the trip and said she’d be fine. After all, it was probably just another cyst. She didn’t want it to burst in Florida. She’d just take care of it now and venture somewhere sunny in the summer.
I got the call as we, all of her best friends, waited in line at a Daytona club: She needed surgery.
Then, the text: it’s cancerous.
I had sat, stunned, in the back seat of our friend’s white Avalanche. Tears swelled, hidden and silent, behind my sunglasses.
My best friend, my partner-in-crime, my roommate, my sister had cancer.
Flashback: Ovarian cancer.
In hospital rooms, my mother was getting skinnier and skinnier. An IV stand followed her home. A hospital-style bedroom. The nurses. The flowers, so many flowers—irises, daisies, roses—all over. The funeral. My father. His two little children. I was six.
Now, my best friend.
At this point, reader, you may feel the urge to close Nicole’s story. Like, what? How could this happen? She’s so young, so full of life.
You may feel acute pain at the injustice. You may feel fear—if I get too close, will it happen to me? You might sense my fear—flashes between past and present, grief from then and the dark, dripping worry of now. Urge to run away, determination to fight it.
Be there for her.
I choked up when she told me she’d shaved her head. Memories of my mother’s rainbow of scarves, boxes of wigs, last promise: “I’m not going to die.”
You may feel the urge to close Nicole’s story.
Six weeks of chemotherapy turned to nine. She got so skinny, reader. But somehow, despite the fatigue and nightmares and nausea, the light behind her eyes shone brightly.
I bought her an array of trendy hats at Urban Outfitters, but she traded them in for a black cotton dress.
So obstinate. So Nicole.
Eventually, her eight-hour marathons of absorbing toxic medicine grew fewer, less frequent.
Just one more week of Chemo, she’d say. One more week.
Then, one day, the doctor told her it was gone.
We celebrated at Applebee’s that night, and I’ve never seen her laugh harder.
Her hair eventually grew into a soft layer of peach fuzz. We told her she looked beautiful, like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.
Then a short surge of curls—beautiful like Keri Russell after she trimmed her famous Felicity locks.
Now, she still looks beautiful— but like Nicole, again.
We all met at in a cluster after completing the three-mile walk today. The large digital timer at the finish line flashed: 1:16:36.
“So, we just raced at three miles per hour,” one of our friends joked.
Nicole, donning a “Survivor” T-shirt, clapped and cheered as the last participants in the 2010 Ovarian Cancer Run and Walk strolled past the City Market downtown. Teal and white balloons swayed in the air. Embraces were made. Photos were snapped.
I surveyed the happy scene and wondered: What will we write in the next chapter?
Nicole and her bro, Jordan. OH HAY, BABY J!
This shot pretty much sums up our roomie, Marg.
Do you have a survivor’s tale? Email DaniellePaquette@HerCampus.com.