Being strong: Fayette woman survives breast cancer against odds

Published 1:04 am Friday, October 21, 2016


FAYETTE — Even before being diagnosed in 2009, Velma Nichols was no stranger to breast cancer.

The Fayette native lost her mother, Betty Marie Nichols, to breast cancer in 2000. Her mother was 61.

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A few years later, Nichols’ sister, just a year younger than Nichols, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was around the time her sister was completing treatment for breast cancer when Nichols noticed a lump in her right breast.

“I was working as a cook, and my right arm touched my breast, and I felt the knot,” she said.

Nichols felt the knot on a Friday and went Monday to the hospital. She was then sent for a mammogram of her right breast, and further testing revealed the cancer.

She was 49.

“I thought I was about to have a nervous breakdown when they told me,” Nichols said.

Nichols visited her daughter in Atlanta and began making plans for how she wanted to treat the cancer.

Those plans really began years before her diagnosis, though.

While her mother was battling cancer, Nichols took her to Jackson for treatment and saw first-hand what it can do to a person. Back then, Nichols says she did not know much about cancer or the treatments for the disease.

When her sister was diagnosed, she began studying the breast cancer and thinking about what she might do if she was ever diagnosed.

“I just thought then, ‘If it ever happens to me, I’m going to get both my breasts removed,’” Nichols said.

And so, that is exactly what she did, not at the recommendation of a doctor or a friend or her family, but as her own choice.

As it turns out, after Nichols had a bilateral mastectomy, cancer was discovered in her left breast after it was removed.

“The whole time, my left side, it was the one that was really hurting,” Nichols said. “The right breast had the knot in it, but the left one, it just really hurt, so I think I knew.”

Doctors had removed the lymph node in Nichols’ right underarm, but she had another surgery to remove the left one after the cancer was discovered in her left breast.

She completed eight courses of chemotherapy over a couple of months.

“It was hard,” she said. “Especially when I had both my lymph nodes removed, it was hard to give myself a bath or even use the bathroom. I had my family, though, and my daughter, and my grandchildren helped me through it.”

Today, Nichols is a member of a cancer support group she helped start in Fayette. She and others offer support for cancer survivors and those enduring cancer.

“It’s hard to talk about for some people,” she said. “Some people just don’t want to talk about it. When I was going through it, there were some people I could talk to, some people I could share with. But I think you feel more comfortable when you can talk to someone who has had cancer.”

Now, Nichols goes for checkups every six months and is optimistic that she has beaten cancer.

“I feel very, very blessed,” she said. “But you’ve got to really push yourself. You can’t … just sit there and worry about it. You have to be strong. And it’s hard, but whenever I feel depressed, I just go uptown and sit and watch the cars go by … and talk to the Lord.”