HILL AIR FORCE BASE — After putting on display a bra with volleyball cups KUTV News Anchor Mary Nickles received as a gift highlighting her two passions, Nickles proceeded to talk about her life as a breast cancer survivor and high school volleyball coach to a crowded room at Hill Air Force Base last week in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Nickles declared her distaste for the color pink, as a reminder of what she doesn’t want to ever experience again, but with her recent three-year clean bill of health, Nickles is considered in remission from the triple-negative breast cancer she was diagnosed with three years ago while doing a promotional story about regular breast cancer screenings.
Nickles recounted the moment she turned to the television camera while hooked up to the X-ray machine and said, “A few moments of discomfort can save my life.” Though Nickles didn’t know at the time, her statement was spot-on, receiving her breast cancer diagnosis in December of 2011, shortly after her informational video about mammograms aired on KUTV.
Nickles doesn’t share her story to be in the spotlight. “I got into this business to tell stories about other people. I hate being part of the story, so it was really uncomfortable for me to say, ‘I have cancer and this is going to suck, but I was hoping someone would see me on air, and say, “She doesn’t look good,’ and maybe inspire someone to get a mammogram so doctors can find cancer early,” Nickles said.
Nickles thought it ironic that for 23 years, she was the health reporter for KUTV news, but suddenly she was thrust into the spotlight as the vehicle to get the message across. On day 13 after her first round of chemotherapy, Nickles lost her hair, so she did a story about wig shopping. “I talked about it like you are supposed to be talking about it, to show that it isn’t something you need to hide, and the more public we make it, we can make more people aware,” Nickles said.
Utah used to be next to last in the country for insured women who were up-to-date on their mammograms. Now the state is in the bottom 10, and according to Craig Rice, 75th Air Base Wing Medical Group commander, only 60 percent of women who are Tricare beneficiaries are current on their mammograms.
Raising awareness and fundraising for cancer research is critical Nickles said, especially since the treatment for triple-negative breast cancer was only discovered a few years ago. “When we raise money, it is being well spent on research, and they are coming up with better treatments every day. There is 100 percent better treatment now for triple-negative breast cancer. Some people think we are petri dishes, but research is accomplishing a lot and affecting many lives,” Nickles said, including her own.
During her chemotherapy treatments, Nickles still continued to work, only missing four days for sick time. “I felt like crap, but I wanted to pretend like it would go away and it would be okay, but cancer doesn’t go away. You have to catch it early and treat it, and that’s the story I want to share,” Nickles said.
Getting up each day for work was critical for Nickles. “I wanted to be there for me. I needed that to get through the days,” Nickles said, who didn’t even mind being bald. “I liked being bald because I knew it would grow back, and wigs aren’t very comfortable,” though Nickles discovered being bald made other people uncomfortable.
“In the grocery store, I forgot I didn’t have any hair, and people treated me differently because I looked like I was sick and dying,” Nickles said.
When Nickles received the news recently that the cancer had not come back after three years, when her type of cancer is most likely to return, she cried tears of joy. “I didn’t realize how scared I was because every day for three years, I worried it was coming back,” as Nickles struggled with her emotions. “I not only hid it from everybody else, but I hid it from myself.”
However, Nickles knows that doesn’t mean another cancer could invade her body down the road, which is why she stressed to audience members the importance of early detection. “You have to take care of yourself,” Nickles said. “The number one reason for not getting checked is that women think they are not at risk, with no family history, but if you have boobs, you are at risk, even men.”