Nicole Graham: The Athlete Who Beat Cancer and Returned To Sports
Nicole Graham is a like many other teenagers in America: she has a passion for sports, many friends who are inspired by the energy she carries and spreads, doting parents, and a smile on her face that reaches her eyes and lights up every place she goes to. But there is one thing about Nicole that is different from others: she beat leukemia.
Nicole Graham: the athlete who beat cancer and returned to sports
From a very young age, Nicole has always been a fast learner when it comes to anything athletic, and soon, she got selected for the sports teams of her school. She played six different sports at one time, and excelled in all of them. She was mostly noted for her prowess in field hockey, indoor track and lacrosse. She always brought an indomitable spirit to the field, and inspired everyone around her to strive for victory.
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But, life changed for her in the last two years of high school. From a tri-varsity athlete she went to become a pediatric leukemia patient of 17. One week into her junior year, in 2012, she notice strange purple spots on her stomach, and was taken in for a blood test. She was 16 at that time, and the doctors sat her parents down to give them the heart-breaking news. Nicole was devastated at this news. She did not know what she had done in her life to deserve this, because she knew that all her life, she had done everything right. However, they were also told that despite being a high-risk patient, her cancer, which was B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), had a cure rate of over 90%.
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Nicole was immediately hospitalized, to give her blood and platelet transfusions, as well as chemotherapy. Five days later, Nicole’s friends, who thought that laughing and hanging out with friends, might help make things easier for Nicole, persuaded to appear on a music video, and have fun. That’s when she realized that she could meet this challenge life had presented, head on. Two rounds of chemo later, Nicole surprised her teammates by emerging on the hockey field during half time of a game, after about two weeks. Everyone was infected immediately by the energy she brought with her.
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But, this was not the end of Nicole’s ordeal, because only six days later, she collapsed again, and she had to be rushed to the hospital once more. It was diagnosed that her immune system had been weakened as a result of the chemotherapy she had undergone, and that led her to have a septic shock and caused her to crumple. The doctors had to put her in a medically induced coma, and this continued for two weeks. During this time, she suffered from two strokes, which further deteriorated her condition, and made her treatment even tougher.
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The doctors had to extract her bone marrow, so that they could check for cancer cells. This was done right before she was brought out of her induced coma. Thankfully, what they found was good news for her family, because she was now in remission. The two chemotherapy sessions which she had to undergo before the com, had finally worked. Even though her parents had been told to prepare themselves to lose their child, Nicole fought against cancer, and she came around.
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But, though she conquered cancer, there was another thing that was on the horizon: a paralysis caused by the two strokes. She was now unable to do anything on her own, such as walk, eat or function normally. She had lost 30 pounds and 60% of her muscle mass. To her devastated mother, Nicole was like a rag doll, and it broke Nicole’s heart to think what her parents had to go through because of her. She had to be transferred to a children’s hospital in New York, and she started undergoing physiotherapy. But, just like she always picked up her sports fast, she didn’t delay in recovering, either, and within two weeks, she was on her feet, when other patients of her condition usually take about six months.
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By January 2013, she was released, having relearned how to talk, walk, eat and hold her hockey-stick again. She had to finish her junior year by doing her coursework at home, since she was immunosuppressed. She returned to school as a senior, and to her team as the captain. Nicole Graham had beaten cancer, and was ready to beat her competitors. She felt a new kind of satisfaction to know that every time she emerged a winner, she was beating a person who had not been through the same things as she had – cancer, chemotherapy, septic shock, paralysis, a close encounter with death.
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Every person who knew her – her parents, friends, team mates, school friends, teachers, coach – was proud of all that Nicole had accomplished at such a young age. To acknowledge her victory, Nicole was crowned the Greenwich High School Queen as part of the Greenwich High School Homecoming activities, which took place during halftime of the football game between Greenwich and Fairfield Warde High School at Greenwich in 2013. Nicole graduated from her school in June, 2014, her eyes set upon the path to her dreams turning into reality. Nicole always wanted to be in Dartmouth College, and when she received a letter accepting her application, and saying that it was one of the most decorated applications they had received, Nicole was on cloud nine.
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To mark the end of her school life, she even volunteered with Swim Across America’s Greenwich, Conn. Event, which is an open water swim in Long Island Sound. The proceeds from this event goes to the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy. As a cancer survivor, she is perhaps the best candidate to become a cancer therapy advocate. She had been able to emerge victorious in a battle with one of the deadliest of diseases, cancer, which is known to have claimed many lives. And all along, she had been nothing but strong, losing no faith in herself, and all she wanted was to return to the field. The only thing Nicole regrets is that her parents had to confront their daughter’s mortality, and she dreads to think that she was the reason behind their tough situation. As sports lovers, we can hope that we will see her spirited performances in college sports, as well as in professional sports, very soon.