August 9, 2018, was Deborah Nickerson’s birthday. It was also the day she was faced with the idea she might have cancer. She had felt a lump in her breast and made an appointment with her primary care physician at Northwest Health Center. Equally concerned, her doctor referred her to Smith Clinic for a mammogram the same day. That’s when she first heard the word cancer.
“At first, I thought, ‘Why me?’ This can’t be happening,” she remembers. Staff quickly scheduled a biopsy, which confirmed stage III cancer.
“I was very upset. The idea of cancer…I didn’t know what to expect. I was told it was growing, so I wanted it gone. I wanted a mastectomy.” She had 16 weeks of chemotherapy at Smith Clinic, surgery at Ben Taub Hospital and seven weeks of radiation at Smith.
She rang the bell on July 5, 2019. “It’s the best feeling in the world,” she says. “You don’t even know. God has been faithful. He showed up and showed off. Chemo shrunk the tumor from the size of a tennis ball to a quarter. Cancer free. I waited so long to hear those words.”
She says her care has been excellent. “Everyone was so attentive. They told me what to expect, and things happened exactly the way they said they would.”
One of those expectations was losing her hair. Within two weeks of beginning chemo, it was gone. “I had to learn to embrace hair loss. My husband kept telling me I looked nice. I started coming to treatment without head cover. No one stared, so I thought, ‘I’m winning.’”
Her husband, Pastor Jerome C. Nickerson Sr., is her strongest supporter. He’s a Vietnam vet, with his own health challenges, yet he never missed one of her appointments. “He’s been at my side the whole time.” She was also heartened by her three children, five grandchildren and church family. She wants to pass on that giving spirit.
“You go through a slew of emotions. In a day, you can go from hope to despair where it’s dark and dreary and you think the worse. But each day, there is more light. Prayer is key. I know I was left here for a reason. It’s my job to find my purpose – to tell others not to give up. I want to be a spokesperson for this disease.”