Last winter, I met the most amazing man. His name is Tony Nicholson and he is my cousin. I was almost grown when he was born, so I never really got to know him when he was a child. Then we lived thousands of miles apart, and, well…time goes on. Finally, we touched base online and had an amazing connection. Tony is 49 years old, married to a lovely woman named Sherry, lives in Tennessee, and is a Cancer Warrior. His journey has been one of bravery, personal resolve, and intestinal fortitude, and I am honored to have him as my guest. Please welcome Mr. Tony Nicholson…
Tony, when did you find out you had cancer? Did you fall ill or find out from routine testing?
I was diagnosed the first week of January 2017. I started having some stomach issues Thanksgiving Day, 2016. The pain was bad, but I hadn’t been to a doctor in 20 years. No way was I going because of a stomach ache. By Christmas, all I could do was work and go home to bed. The day after Christmas I was pretty much bedridden. I broke down and went to the doctor a couple of days later and he and I both thought it was my gallbladder. I went for a test, my gallbladder was bad, and was scheduled for surgery for the following week. I didn’t make it that far. I was so weak and so sick I honestly thought I was going to die. I remember taking a shower so that I would be clean when they found my body.
My wife took me to the ER where they immediately took me back and started testing. The on-call doctor first suggested that I might have cancer. It was confirmed a few days later when a biopsy was performed during surgery.
I woke up from surgery without my gallbladder, without 13″ of my colon, with a colostomy bag and when tests came back, a stage 3 cancer diagnosis. I was devastated.
How did you feel when you got the news? Did you resolve to fight right away, or was there denial before acceptance?
I was hospitalized for 13 days. Thoughts were running through my head: Am I going to die? Am I going to be a burden on my wife and family? How am I going to pay bills and keep my house if I can’t work? Thoughts also of chemo and the side effects…
I knew I had to fight to stay alive. I promised my wife, my kids, my sisters, and my baby Grandson that I would fight with all that I have. I promised my Grandson that we would go see Mickey Mouse someday. I’m determined to keep that promise.
What was the diagnosis and treatment plan?
I met with the Oncologist in my hospital room. She told me that I would require 6 months of chemo every other week. She also said that the odds were 50/50. She told me that she simply didn’t know. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.
How did your family and wife Sherry react to the news?
Sherry was stronger than me. She kept telling me that I was going to be okay. My family supported me the best they could. My sisters came to the hospital every day.
How long before you began chemo? Tell me about your first chemo experience.
I started chemo on Feb 15th. I was so scared, but I was trying not to show it. They took me back and took blood, took my vitals, and after a checkup with the Oncologist, I was off to the treatment room. Sherry was by my side the entire time. We sat in the reclining chairs. I can remember asking Sherry to move an IV stand because I couldn’t see that face of hers that gives me strength.
The nurses at Tennessee Oncologists were beyond great. They calmed my nerves. They stuck a needle in my stomach about the size of a pencil. It hurt like hell, but was necessary to help control nausea. Then they ran some other anti-nausea meds through my port that was put in the week before. Then came the chemo
drugs. It was scary seeing Nurse Barbara dressed like she works at a nuclear power plant. I was holding Sherry’s hand and she kept asking if I’m okay. The entire process took almost 6 hours. I had to wear a chemo pump for 2 days after each treatment to keep giving me meds slowly over time.
Did you bond with some of your fellow cancer warriors and did you have any special care givers who made your journey easier/better along the way?
When you spend 6 hours a per day every 2 weeks in the chemo room, you get to know the staff and other patients. You become part of their lives and you let them into yours. The tough thing is getting attached, then realizing the patients have cancer just like you. I began talking to a man named Mark. Mark had colon cancer just like me, stage 3 just like me, and a colostomy bag just like me. He got his shots in the stomach and from what I could tell, had the same protocol as I did. For some reason, Mark’s chemo didn’t take and he lost his fight on Sept 11th. Could’ve been me.
Nurse Barbara stands out as far as my nurses go. She named me the “Chemodale Dancer” and made me a bow tie that made some of the other patients laugh. She also heads up the cancer support group that has helped me tremendously.
How did you come to call yourself a “warrior”?
The term “Cancer Warrior” came from a fellow cancer patient named Barry Rinks. When I was diagnosed, I reached out to him to ask about his fight, his treatments, and his outlook. Although he didn’t know me personally at all, we talked a lot about treatments and about God. He made me see that death is nothing to fear if you have God. He helped lift such a burden off me. I didn’t know at the time that Barry was so close to losing his battle. He went home to Heaven around Labor Day.
I understand your wife Sherry was your life-line and your primary care giver. How vital was she to your ultimate and overall recovery?
Sherry was/is my care giver. Without her, I would be dead or in nursing home. There is not enough time or space to tell all she has done for me. I know this seems short, but if I start listing things, it is going to be extremely long. She has kept me alive.
How many months were you in treatment? How did you cope with daily life? Did you stay home a lot or get out as much as you could?
I did chemo for 6 months. I was out of work for 3 months. The nurses at the oncologist office did a great job with my nausea. I had some but it was manageable. The fatigue, on the other hand, was awful. I had never felt so constantly run down. I couldn’t eat, drink, or touch anything cold. Trying to get the colostomy bag fixed to where it wouldn’t leak and make huge messes was a big issue. The mental part was harder for me than the physical. I had 3 months to think about my life and how I was going to make positive changes, be a better husband, father, brother, son, and grandpa. I told God if he decided to take me I’m ready, but if not, my desire is to be that man who I want to become.
I stayed at home a lot. I had to get out and take care of some things because Sherry had to work. After 3 months and against doctor’s orders, I went back to work. It was hell. They took my office job away from me while I was out and cut my pay. I was also told that if I couldn’t keep up, they didn’t need me. So, I would leave chemo and head directly back to work. Because of this, I developed blood clots in both legs and kept a barf bag on my table in case I got sick while working.
Tell me about your last day of chemo.
My last chemo treatment was on July 13th. Sherry made signs for me to hold while taking pictures. I rang the bell as I was leaving. Then I cranked up the music as myself, Nurse Barbara, another nurse, and a volunteer did The Conga up the hallway.
When and how did you get the news that you were cancer-free?
After my last treatment, I went for tests to determine the condition of my cancer. We got the tests back a week later, and the cancer was gone. My Oncologist told me during my checkup.
How are you now and what is your next step in overall recovery?
Right now, I am still battling the residual effects from the chemo. My fingers and feet are both numb and I have balance issues. I have joined a gym and can ride a stationary bike. I’m working on my weight so that I can get a colostomy reversal.
What message would you like to convey to the world regarding your journey and the fight against cancer?
If you think something is wrong with your body, then something might be. It’s better to know for sure. Go to your doctor and get checked. Please get those colonoscopies, mammograms or any other cancer detecting tests. Most insurers will pay 100% for preventive care. Everyone should get a colonoscopy before age 50 (listen up, Nicholson family!) They’re not fun, but may save your life.
I would like to thank you, Tony, for sharing your story with my readers. I am sure everyone is just as thrilled as I am to know you are cancer-free and moving on toward a full, wonderful life. The world is indeed a better place with you in it!
Please leave comments for Tony below. He would enjoy hearing from you all!