Nicole Graham

Dauntless and Undeterred

Her story:

"When I was 16, I was diagnosed with ALL Leukemia Type B. I have been an athlete my whole life and am a huge believer in the importance of health and exercise. Unfortunately, two weeks into my diagnosis, I developed septic shock and was placed in a medically induced coma for two weeks. I suffered two strokes on either side of my brain and when I woke up, I was paralyzed, barely able to see and had a feeding tube. I was sent to a rehabilitation center and although the doctors predicted it would take me 2-3 years to recover and even then they didn’t know what my status would be, I ended up walking out of the rehabilitation facility two months later. It was truly a miraculous recovery and much of it was due to my athletic ability and my dedication to physical exercise and sports. Even on days when I couldn’t eat because of anesthesia later in the day, I was determined to get better and went through with my physical rehabilitation.

After 2.5 years of treatment, I was in remission and continued to be cancer-free for 5 years. I went on to play club lacrosse at Dartmouth College and became captain my senior year. Given the beautiful landscape surrounding me at Dartmouth College, I also began an avid runner. To celebrate being in remission for 5 years, my whole family came up to New Hampshire and watched me run a half-marathon. We thought I was in the clear. Unfortunately, four months later, I was diagnosed with a relapse and was forced to return home to CT to finish my senior year while undergoing chemotherapy and immunotherapy prior to a stem-cell transplant. I continued to run and play golf prior to the transplant and even played throughout the spring while attached to a ten pound backpack carrying my immunotherapy that had to be going 24/7.

I was extremely lucky and there was a break in my treatment and I was able to walk with my class at graduation with honors. Two weeks later, I underwent the transplant on June 29, 2019 and the doctors were amazed every time they came into my room and I was biking with a foot peddler, doing tai-chi with the martial arts volunteer or doing yoga with my mom. I requested these resources the first day I got into the hospital because I knew how important it was to stay conditioned while limited to my 10x10ft room. The radiation nurses also remarked how I was the only patient in their time that has requested, and actually been able to, walk to and from radiation. Again, it was another time for me to be able to exercise and I would not turn down that opportunity. I was released fourteen days after my transplant, tying the record for how fast I was released. From the very first day I was out of the hospital, I would go for three 2-mile walks every day pending the weather to recondition myself. Now I have joined the Fairfield County Women’s Paddle Tennis League to be a little more active, and on the weekends, I have been lucky enough to go snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing. I am not able to go inside anywhere public after the transplant so I have been trying to be active as much as possible this winter."

Her short-term athletic goal: "Given my treatment, I have lost a significant amount of my muscle tone so in the short term I really want to regain that muscle and return to the physical ability I had previously."

Her long-term athletic goal: "After becoming an avid long-distance runner during my time at college, I really want to be able to return to running at least 4 miles daily and get back into that shape."

Personal Motto: "No one fights alone!"