By Rachel McLaughlin: Nikki Bradley, 27, is on a mission to get fit – after ten years of recovery setbacks from a rare cancer.
She will go to Dublin today for a ‘futuristic’ style surgery to combat the pain she has had since beginning cancer treatment in 2003.
In 2002, Nikki was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. She was 16 years old when she discovered a lump in her pelvis. She remembers receiving her diagnosis while wearing her Loreto Convent school uniform.
Nikki travelled to England to have the tumour removed after six cycles of chemotherapy. Her condition was so rare that surgeons in Ireland were not confident in doing the procedure.
Nikki made the decision early on not to hide her illness.
“The support I got in school was unbelievable,” she says. “I never thought that I was going to die. I was lucky the tumour was localised in bone and it couldn’t spread. ”
She went through six more cycles of chemotherapy after surgery, followed by radiotherapy for six weeks.
Nikki went to the VEC in Letterkenny to do the Leaving Cert after a full year of treatment. But disaster struck after her mock exams. She was suddenly hit with an immense pain that lasted the entire summer. Doctors in Letterkenny General Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin could not determine the cause of the pain. She remembers the journey to St. Vincent’s emergency room as the worst journey of her life.
Nikki later learned that she had developed Lymphedema, which meant that her lymph nodes were damaged from the initial surgery in England. Her hip was crumbling and leaning on nerves, causing great pain.
In 2007, Nikki had a hip replacement. The pain relief the next day was unbelievable, she says. She was soon able to walk with crutches.
Nikki secured a place in NUI Galway, despite not having completed her Leaving Cert. She went through the Access programme, with the help of staff in the VEC.
University life promised a new start for Nikki, but pain crept back into her hip. She took a year out to go to Australia in February 2011.
On the flight to Australia, a massive infection developed in Nikki’s hip. Her leg and foot had swollen so much that she could not wear a flip-flop sandal. Her entire hip was removed in a Perth hospital. But the temporary prosthesis slipped up inside her just two days after the surgery.
Nikki went home to Ireland, to be immediately admitted into St. Vincent’s Hospital.
She needed a second hip replacement after a fall before Christmas 2011, where she broke her femur. The procedure failed because her bone cells were severely damaged by radiotherapy. She was also left with a considerable leg length discrepancy. She has needed to use two crutches for the past two years.
“The pain is crazy all the time,” she says.
Nikki is set to undergo surgery in her spine this week that should transform her pain into a mere tingly feeling. The procedure, called MRI Compatible Spine Cord Simulation, will consist of two separate surgeries to insert two devices in both her spine and stomach. Nikki will get a handheld remote control to hold up to the device in her stomach and transform her pain into a tingling sensation.
“It’s a €35000 device, so, that, combined with the £18000 prosthesis, I’m very expensive!” says Nikki.
When she heard about the surgery, Nikki’s first thought was the effect it would have on her new training programme with local coach Michael Black, at Optimal Fitness in Letterkenny.
Nikki trains for an hour, three times a week in the Optimal Fitness gym at Mountain Top. She also does physiotherapy sessions with her friend Lorraine Boyce. It was Lorraine who suggested that Nikki see Michael. The trio met and set up a training program.
Since August, Nikki has been getting fit to raise awareness for UK based charity Ewing’s Sarcoma Research Trust.
She hopes to motivate people in similar situations, and people without disabilities who may have let themselves go or lost motivation.
“If I can do it, and I have all of this, people could get motivation from me,” Nikki hopes.
There are not a lot of sports for people with disabilities who aren’t in wheelchairs, Nikki says. In the Optimal Fitness gym, Michael puts Nikki through TRX suspension training, cycling and core training to help her balance.
Nikki works towards monthly challenges with Michael. Her first task was kayaking in Gartan Lake, something which she was proud to be able to do.”To be able to get into the boat was great in itself”, she says.
Nikki’s next target is to climb Mount Errigal, Donegal’s tallest peak. She plans to do the challenge along with local businessman and accomplished mountain climber Jason Black, who is a cousin of Michael’s.
This week’s spinal operation will be a setback to Nikki’s training schedule. The Mount Errigal climb is a great motivation to heal quickly, she says. “As soon as I’m up for it, I’ll be back training.”
Nikki is documenting her journey through her blog at http://fightingfitforewings.wordpress.com/
Keep a watch out on Donegal Daily for updates from Nikki Bradley on her progress.
By Rachel McLaughlinTags: