Nikia Garland – 2017 Ambassador
City: Indianapolis, IN
Date of diagnosis: June 2015
Diagnosis: Stage 0 Ductal Carcinoma in SITU
Occupation: English Teacher
In March 2015, when she was 37 years old, Nikia discovered a lump in her right breast. She had a gut feeling this lump was most likely breast cancer but waited until May to get it checked out. At her initial appointment, the doctor did not think it was breast cancer due to her young age and other factors: the lump Nikia had was a moving lump and the doctor told her it is abnormal for a breast cancer lump to move. Wanting to be sure, she followed up with an ultrasound, a mammogram and two biopsies.
On June 1, Nikia was at work when she got the phone call that confirmed her worst fears. She had breast cancer. She suddenly fell into panic mode. Nikia is a widow, a mother of two children, and now a breast cancer survivor.
She didn’t initially share her diagnosis with anyone. It wasn’t until three days before her first surgery that she told her oldest son, who was senior in high school at the time, about the battle she was facing. When it came to telling her youngest son, she spared the details and just told him that she was sick and needed surgery.
Nikia had four breast cancer-related surgeries; luckily no chemotherapy or radiation treatments were necessary. She did not have to have a bilateral mastectomy because there was no cancer found in her left breast. Throughout her journey, Nikia struggled with survivor guilt, especially when thinking about her best friend who died from breast cancer in 2012.
She begged her doctors to get her back to work before the beginning of the school year because in 16 years she had never missed the first day. For the first and only time, she missed the first six weeks of school so she could fully recover. Other surgeries were scheduled over breaks.
Nikia says going through this cancer journey was very difficult because she didn’t want to burden people with her diagnosis, especially her close friend who had just fought stomach cancer. She was by her side throughout Nikia’s whole journey, even when Nikia didn’t necessarily want to worry her. She eventually told some members of her church community. The few members of her church that she did tell coincidentally had all battled cancer in their lifetimes. This allowed Nikia to connect with her community on a deeper level and strengthen relationships through these shared experiences.
Nikia loves travelling abroad, reading, writing and cooking. She also loves ballet and spending time with her family, which includes her toy poodle Chloe!
Nikia participated in the 2016 Race for the Cure, where she was at first nervous to run into anyone she knew, but that fear soon subsided when her good friend told her to relax, not to worry about who would see her, and to just enjoy the day.
Nikia’s takeaway message for others: “Cancer is not a death sentence. I learned some valuable lessons during my battle, such as finding the silver lining in any situation, no matter what life throws your way and allowing others the gift of helping bear heavy burdens. The Lord works all things out for good-even something as undesirable as cancer. He allowed me to have this experience for a reason and in the words of John Piper, I don’t want to “waste my cancer.” I simply want to use my story to glorify God and provide hope to others. There is value in the valley. Breast cancer taught me how to “be still” and know that He is God!