Nicole Schulz was a 14-year-old high school cheerleader when she was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).
|Nicole Shulz's (left) hair was still growing back after chemo when she was crowned Miss Corona.|
She had to grow up fast.
In a day, she went from the life of a typical teenager — school, cheerleading practice, hanging out with friends — to a full-time resident in the City of Hope pediatric ward. AML is an aggressive leukemia that quickly rendered Nicole’s bone marrow 97 percent cancerous. She spent three and a half months living at the hospital, enduring a daily regimen of chemotherapy and blood and platelet transfusions.
“Three nurses would wake me up at midnight every night for chemo,” Nicole remembers. “It was so tiring.”
Hope Deferred — Radiation and Bone Marrow Required
Nicole spent three and a half grueling months in our hospital before she was able
to return home. Very soon, though, a bone marrow biopsy revealed her cancer was in remission. It was the best possible time to perform a bone marrow transplant (BMT).
Nicole packed her bag and returned to City of Hope. She had been home all of three
To prepare for a bone marrow transplant -- using marrow from an anonymous donor in Chicago -- Nicole first had to undergo two rounds of intense chemo and two weeks of full-body radiation. Three times each day.
“It was horrible,” she says. “They hang you in a harness from the ceiling with your feet barely touching the ground. There’s a loud noise and three seconds later you totally lose control of your body. And it’s painful.”
“I lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes,” she explains. “I even lost my fingernails and toenails.”
And only then was she ready for the transplant.
The Transplant, the Aftermath and the Future
Nicole’s body accepted the donation. But not without a fight. She quickly developed
graft-versus-host disease. Her skin developed rashes and sloughed off. She spent more than a month in isolation at City of Hope, visited only by her mother and her nurses.
“My nurse — Jamie — became one of my best friends,” Nicole says. “She would come in my room during those dark days and say, ‘Stand up. You’re getting out of bed.’ Then she’d open the blinds to let the sun in.”
And the light did finally return to Nicole’s life.
So much so that she is now the reigning Miss Corona. When she won the pageant, her hair was still growing back from her treatment.
“When they put that crown on my head,” Nicole says with a smile, “the first
thing that crossed my mind was running back to City of Hope and telling them to
never give up!”
And return she did. Last Christmas she returned to City of Hope wearing her
Miss Corona crown. She delivered toys and gift certificates to the children in the
pediatric ward. She is living proof that that there is a battle worth fighting.
Your support of City of Hope allowed us to become an early pioneer in
bone marrow transplantation. Because of friends like you, we have performed
more than 7,900 bone marrow and stem cell transplants, and we operate
one of the largest and most successful BMT programs in the world. Today,
Nicole Schulz is working hard to rejoin her classmates at school. She plans to
graduate on time.
Thank you for doing so much to help end cancer!