The face of cancer appeal

Nicole tells her story hoping she can help someone else.

Nicole tells her story hoping she can help someone else.

Nicole Bates, with her mum Lorna, says if her story can help just one person, it will be worth it. Picture by Paul Rickard

The public profile brings anxiety but the driving force for Nicole Bates has always been that if her story can help just one person, it will all be worth it.

“You do what you have to do,” she says bravely.

Her mum Lorna calls Nicole her little Wahine Toa — Maori for brave and courageous woman.

When Nicole was about to be wheeled into the operating theatre for brain surgery last year, she gave her family two thumbs up, then told them to go to the movies.

Lorna was flabbergasted.

“You’re about to have your head cut open and you’re telling us to go to the movies?” she asked.

It is testament to Nicole’s courage. Just a few weeks before, she had hoped her headaches were harmless. They weren’t.

Nicole had cancer, a tumour on the right side of her brain. The best option was brain surgery.

From the first diagnosis to this point of pre-operation was only three weeks. What followed was a gruelling period of radiation and chemotherapy. Nicole’s last lot finished about a month ago.

From here, Nicole will have an MRI every three months to keep an eye on her. But it’s not all over yet. You can’t just finish chemotherapy then go straight back to work.

It is important that everyone understands just what it does to your body. Recovery is a long process.

The radiation and chemo itself did not hurt but afterwards Nicole’s skin felt like it was burning.

“There were times we could do only one hour at a time. I’d say to Nicole, ‘let’s not even take one day at a time’.”

Nicole would lie in a dark room, Lorna would put on some music she liked and get her through to the next hour.

These times were sprinkled with amazing people and the family’s strong Christian faith. There have been lots of prayers and miracles along the way — like Nicole’s hair growing back and the fact they caught the tumour just in time.

It had started to change into a grade three, more aggressive cancer just before it was removed.

THE SYMPTOMS

“We tried to cross everything else off the list”.

Nicole had lived in Australia for nine years. An independent strong woman, she had a flat, a job, a partner and her dog Max.

On Boxing Day 2013, Nicole was king- hit in Australia. What followed was 4½ years of pain and countless doctors — some would send her away with a prescription for panadol and one even told her to see a psychiatrist, because the symptoms were all in her head.

Ironically, the last bit turned out to be true but it was not a mental condition causing Nicole’s symptoms, but a brain tumour.

The tumour was on the same side of the head as she was hit.

Nicole knows herself very well. Ever since that incident on Boxing Day, she never felt like herself again — even though doctors in Australia did not send her for one X-ray, scan or MRI.

“If you know yourself, keep on going”.

The headaches were intense.

Lorna said they would be talking on the phone and Nicole would mention she had to take some panadol.

“As a parent, you suggest they see a doctor, drink more water, you offer to come, or should she come home?

An eternal optimist, Lorna said it never crossed her mind it could be cancer.

When Nicole came home to Gisborne for a brief holiday in 2017, Lorna and her husband Allan were able to see first-hand the intense pain these headaches were causing their daughter.

The light was too bright and her vision started to become crossed. They visited an optometrist. Nicole did need glasses but still her vision would get crossed.

In the midst of all this, Allan required spinal surgery and Nicole was his support person.

She would walk with him every day to the letter box and back. When they made it two houses up the street one day, there was a celebratory feeling. Soon they were making it to the top of Gaddums Hill.

For Nicole, too, the walks were helping heaps. She would tell her mum that at the top, her head felt clearer, almost like something had shifted inside.

DOCTOR VISIT IN GISBORNE

At home, Lorna and Nicole visited Dr Sally Diver — one of their heroes.

“She sat and just listened to all the symptoms and took her time,” said Lorna, as tears spring to her eyes.

“The reason that brings tears to my eyes is because Nicole had been going to doctors for a long time in Australia and she had been walking away with paracetamol.

“It was really hard for her to tell her story and trust doctors again.

“Sally Diver helped Nicole get to that place where she could share her symptoms and tell her story.”

Dr Diver booked Nicole in for a scan.

They had made it only as far as the supermarket after the scan when Nicole’s phone rang. It was Dr Diver.

Nicole remembers the doctor telling her they had found a lesion on her brain and an MRI had been booked for tomorrow.

She vividly remembers telling her mum it was “on the right side”. The side where she was king-hit.

THE SUPPORT

During the dark hours that followed diagnosis, people’s finest moments shone through.

The cancer lodge in Hamilton, where people from the East Coast stay when they need radiation or chemotherapy, is full of these kinds of people.

“They’re heroes,” says Lorna.

“The workers are amazing and so are the other patients.”

The lodge can host about 50 patients and everyone is allowed a support person.

The hearts and compassion from others walking through the “season” of cancer were “phenomenal”, said Lorna.

“They weren’t sitting there feeling sorry for themselves.

“People were laughing, playing bingo, sharing stories and battles.

“We became like one big family, all helping and encouraging each other.

“It was quite phenomenal, I was sad to leave.

“The sense of family, compassion and empathy really flowed.”

The public profile brings anxiety but the driving force for Nicole Bates has always been that if her story can help just one person, it will all be worth it.

“You do what you have to do,” she says bravely.

Her mum Lorna calls Nicole her little Wahine Toa — Maori for brave and courageous woman.

When Nicole was about to be wheeled into the operating theatre for brain surgery last year, she gave her family two thumbs up, then told them to go to the movies.

Lorna was flabbergasted.

“You’re about to have your head cut open and you’re telling us to go to the movies?” she asked.

It is testament to Nicole’s courage. Just a few weeks before, she had hoped her headaches were harmless. They weren’t.

Nicole had cancer, a tumour on the right side of her brain. The best option was brain surgery.

From the first diagnosis to this point of pre-operation was only three weeks. What followed was a gruelling period of radiation and chemotherapy. Nicole’s last lot finished about a month ago.

From here, Nicole will have an MRI every three months to keep an eye on her. But it’s not all over yet. You can’t just finish chemotherapy then go straight back to work.

It is important that everyone understands just what it does to your body. Recovery is a long process.

The radiation and chemo itself did not hurt but afterwards Nicole’s skin felt like it was burning.

“There were times we could do only one hour at a time. I’d say to Nicole, ‘let’s not even take one day at a time’.”

Nicole would lie in a dark room, Lorna would put on some music she liked and get her through to the next hour.

These times were sprinkled with amazing people and the family’s strong Christian faith. There have been lots of prayers and miracles along the way — like Nicole’s hair growing back and the fact they caught the tumour just in time.

It had started to change into a grade three, more aggressive cancer just before it was removed.

THE SYMPTOMS

“We tried to cross everything else off the list”.

Nicole had lived in Australia for nine years. An independent strong woman, she had a flat, a job, a partner and her dog Max.

On Boxing Day 2013, Nicole was king- hit in Australia. What followed was 4½ years of pain and countless doctors — some would send her away with a prescription for panadol and one even told her to see a psychiatrist, because the symptoms were all in her head.

Ironically, the last bit turned out to be true but it was not a mental condition causing Nicole’s symptoms, but a brain tumour.

The tumour was on the same side of the head as she was hit.

Nicole knows herself very well. Ever since that incident on Boxing Day, she never felt like herself again — even though doctors in Australia did not send her for one X-ray, scan or MRI.

“If you know yourself, keep on going”.

The headaches were intense.

Lorna said they would be talking on the phone and Nicole would mention she had to take some panadol.

“As a parent, you suggest they see a doctor, drink more water, you offer to come, or should she come home?

An eternal optimist, Lorna said it never crossed her mind it could be cancer.

When Nicole came home to Gisborne for a brief holiday in 2017, Lorna and her husband Allan were able to see first-hand the intense pain these headaches were causing their daughter.

The light was too bright and her vision started to become crossed. They visited an optometrist. Nicole did need glasses but still her vision would get crossed.

In the midst of all this, Allan required spinal surgery and Nicole was his support person.

She would walk with him every day to the letter box and back. When they made it two houses up the street one day, there was a celebratory feeling. Soon they were making it to the top of Gaddums Hill.

For Nicole, too, the walks were helping heaps. She would tell her mum that at the top, her head felt clearer, almost like something had shifted inside.

DOCTOR VISIT IN GISBORNE

At home, Lorna and Nicole visited Dr Sally Diver — one of their heroes.

“She sat and just listened to all the symptoms and took her time,” said Lorna, as tears spring to her eyes.

“The reason that brings tears to my eyes is because Nicole had been going to doctors for a long time in Australia and she had been walking away with paracetamol.

“It was really hard for her to tell her story and trust doctors again.

“Sally Diver helped Nicole get to that place where she could share her symptoms and tell her story.”

Dr Diver booked Nicole in for a scan.

They had made it only as far as the supermarket after the scan when Nicole’s phone rang. It was Dr Diver.

Nicole remembers the doctor telling her they had found a lesion on her brain and an MRI had been booked for tomorrow.

She vividly remembers telling her mum it was “on the right side”. The side where she was king-hit.

THE SUPPORT

During the dark hours that followed diagnosis, people’s finest moments shone through.

The cancer lodge in Hamilton, where people from the East Coast stay when they need radiation or chemotherapy, is full of these kinds of people.

“They’re heroes,” says Lorna.

“The workers are amazing and so are the other patients.”

The lodge can host about 50 patients and everyone is allowed a support person.

The hearts and compassion from others walking through the “season” of cancer were “phenomenal”, said Lorna.

“They weren’t sitting there feeling sorry for themselves.

“People were laughing, playing bingo, sharing stories and battles.

“We became like one big family, all helping and encouraging each other.

“It was quite phenomenal, I was sad to leave.

“The sense of family, compassion and empathy really flowed.”

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