Honoring Nicole

After losing our only child Nicole to lung cancer, we began a non-profit organization that educates and assists others affected by the disease

Written by Colleen Dumas | Select photography by Sara Isola

Cypress, TX News - We were a normal family, or so we thought. My husband and I grew up on the west side of Houston, got married in 1982, and moved to the Cypress area in early 1999. We envisioned raising our daughter in the Cypress community until retirement, many years down the road, when suddenly life changed overnight.

An Unexpected Turn
In November 2010, our only child at age 26 was diagnosed with lung cancer. Nicole had just recently earned her Bachelor’s degree in sociology from Texas A&M University and her Master’s degree in social work/business administration from Texas State University. She was an active, healthy, and fit young woman with personal drive who had never smoked.

Nicole had what she thought was sinus drainage or possibly a head cold that she just couldn’t shake. She thought she was just tired from working long hours in addition to business travel. She also had minor discomfort in her shoulder blade that wouldn’t go away that doctors diagnosed as muscle strain due to being on the computer all day at work. Little did we ever imagine that these very minor symptoms combined, were signs of lung cancer.

Missed Chances with Misdiagnosis
Nicole was misdiagnosed with two separate unrelated issues by two different doctors over a six-month period. A third doctor was able to analyze the combined symptoms, ordered an X-ray, and immediately sent her to a pulmonary specialist who confirmed through a biopsy that it was stage four lung cancer.

Within three days after receiving referral acceptance, we were at MD Anderson still in shock, extremely scared, mad, and dismayed. After the first week of numerous tests and retests, her primary oncologist estimated that the cancer started approximately six to 12 months prior. As parents, we were trying to figure out how we missed the symptoms. What went wrong? What didn’t we do right? How do we fix this? These questions led us to Internet research, an emotionally draining and difficult task.

Throughout the first year of treatments, Nicole continued to work and live in Austin, although it became increasingly difficult to maintain her full-time work week, go grocery shopping, clean her apartment, and take care of her two beloved puppies – all while fighting cancer. Due to the side effects of chemo and 18 to 22 days in a row of radiation treatments compounded by her severely reduced lung capacity, she had to stop working and moved back to Cypress to live with us. We were fortunate that we lived in Cypress and that MD Anderson, one of the top cancer centers in the world, was only a 30-minute commute.

Supporting Others

We dealt with the anguish of finding positive, useful information for some of the simple things – like how to get a handicapped parking permit or a wheelchair. On the other hand, experiencing the joys of what a stylish wig could do for the self-esteem of a young woman who has lost her hair due to cancer treatments was a well-needed positive.

Within the first six months at MD Anderson, Nicole started talking about all of the hardships many patients had to deal with, the all-day tests and consultations, chemo and radiation treatments, and the cost. She wanted to do something, anything that might make their daily lives just a little easier. Waiting for her next appointment gave us an opportunity to talk to a lot of other patients and hear about their hardships and successes. We found that some people had to sell their businesses, empty their savings and 401(k)s, sell their homes, or make other life-changing decisions to give their loved one a fighting chance at life.

This opportunity to meet people from across the U.S. sparked in Nicole the idea for the Lung Cancer Foundation for Young Women (LCFFYW) – a simple, yet tangible concept for a non-profit organization. Their purpose would be to inform, educate, and provide information in a positive manner – in addition to offering assistance to offset some of the often-overlooked costs of cancer treatment. She wanted to be able to help other women with the daily logistical costs that insurance and government-based programs do not cover and most of us don’t even consider unless you have experienced long-term medical treatment firsthand.

Finding Hope

Nicole lost her battle with lung cancer on October 26, 2012, just 23 months after being diagnosed. Since then, we have recruited many of our friends and a growing list of volunteers to keep her dream alive through this foundation focused on lung cancer education, early detection, and support of young women fighting for their lives.

The LCFFYW began in October 2013, and we are launching a new program to provide pre-paid parking distributed through MD Anderson to the families of women fighting lung cancer while they are being treated.

Through a partnership with Reason2Race, we have completed our first series of public awareness, education venues, and fundraising with LCFFYW teams participating in The Woodlands Marathon and the Neon Splash Dash Houston earlier this year, and are planning for team participation in the Monster Mash Fun Run in October 2014.

To further support the LCFFYW’s goals, we are always looking for ways to partner with athletic organizations, women’s groups, high schools, and colleges to further educate women and their families about lung cancer and the positive aspects of early detection and to continue to assist young women and their families while fighting this terrible disease on their way to remission. CFM

Editor’s Note: We would like to thank Colleen Dumas for sharing Nicole’s story. If you have an inspirational story you would like to share, email editor@cyfairmagazine.com.