MRF Blog

Guest Blog: Nikki's Concert for a Cure

October 10, 2018 | Categories: Causes, Patient Stories

Guest blog post by Chrissy Sorrells.

In October of 2012, my little sister, Nikki, was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic melanoma and our lives were forever changed. This is her story:

At the end of October 2012 – the week of October 21st to be exact – Nikki started experiencing horrible headaches and nausea. Throughout that week she took the regular over-the-counter medicine and tried going into work a couple of times, just to turn around and go home because she was in so much pain. By Friday, October 26, she was hurting so bad that she was constantly getting sick and my parents told her to come home for the weekend so they could try to help her feel better. The headaches and nausea continued to get worse, so that evening my parents took her to the emergency room at Eastside Medical Center. A CT scan of her head revealed a mass and she was transferred via ambulance to the Neurosciences ICU at Emory University Hospital. Once at Emory, the mass was identified as a golf ball-sized tumor in the right frontal lobe of her brain. After seeing the neurosurgeon, Dr. Boulis, on Sunday, surgery was planned for Tuesday or Wednesday. In the meantime, the goal was to continue keeping her comfortable and try to reduce any swelling in her head. Unfortunately, within an hour of the examination by Dr. Boulis, things took an unexpected turn for the worse. Nikki became unresponsive and she was rushed into emergency surgery that Sunday, October 28.

The surgery was a success! The tumor was removed and Nikki did amazingly well! Before they brought her back to her room in the ICU, the doctors came in to speak with us and this is when we received the news that would forever change our lives. We were told that the tumor they had removed was cancer, suspected as a metastatic melanoma, meaning it was a secondary tumor created by cancer that was somewhere else in her body. It was at this moment that we went from high-fives and hugs to complete and total shock. After giving this awful news a little while to settle in, we all came together and truly believed that our little fighter was going to show cancer the door. From that moment on, Nikki was surrounded by nothing but words of encouragement, love, and support. TEAM NICOLE ALL THE WAY!!!

The cancer in her body was soon confirmed as melanoma. I’ll admit that while melanoma sounds pretty scary, I, for one, was thinking GREAT, let’s just find this little mole that is somewhere on her body, cut it off and go home! However, her metastatic melanoma was in the most advanced stage, so we soon found out things aren’t as simple as I thought...or hoped.

Nikki did great through surgery and continued recovering better than anyone could imagine. She came home and spent the next few weeks just getting better. She had to wait until the wound from her surgery healed before they could start treatment for the cancer. Finally she was able to start radiation, which was done more as a preventative treatment. She was then set to start an immunotherapy called ipilimumab, also called “ippy” for short, a series of infusions that helps build your immune system to fight off the cancer cells. Nikki got the first of these infusions and felt good immediately after, so good that we all went out to dinner to celebrate! During the holidays, Nikki was doing so well that you wouldn’t have even known she was sick. She had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Soon after, Nikki started experiencing back pain, headaches and then started getting sick again. An MRI on January 9th showed new cancer lesions in her spine. On the morning of January 10th, after another night of Nikki being in a lot of pain without much relief from the pain medications, my parents took her back to Emory. She was admitted to the hospital and the doctors tried to relieve the pain. Not knowing if this was a bad reaction to the ippy, a new plan was developed to do targeted radiation on the cancer found in her spine. The next couple of weeks were a rollercoaster of good and not-so-good news… and good and not-so-good days. The cancer had spread and Nikki had a couple of seizures. She was moved to the ICU, then back to the Oncology floor, then back to the ICU again on January 20th. We still had a plan with the targeted radiation to her back and we couldn’t wait to take her home to really start fighting this awful disease. Unfortunately, she never got that chance.

On the morning of Wednesday, January 23rd, after the regular visits from the various doctors (ICU, Neurology, Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Pain Management, etc.), we were anticipating moving her out of the ICU and back to the Oncology floor so that she could restart the targeted radiation treatments to her spine. Throughout the day, she was in so much pain. The medications provided temporary relief, but the dosages required to ease the pain continued to increase.

That afternoon, Nikki began having trouble breathing and things quickly spiraled out of our control. Nikki fought as hard as she could, and it’s still a bad dream we wish we could wake from, but the reality is that we lost our sweet Nikki at approximately 4:30pm on January 23, 2013. That literally hurts me to type.

Nikki passed with my parents on each side of her hospital bed holding her hands. Cam (Nikki's boyfriend) and I were also with her. The cause of death was determined to be an intracranial hemorrhage caused by bleeding in her brain and the aggressive spread of the melanoma.

The pain we feel is unbearable.

During all of this, the one thing that Nikki constantly talked about was wanting to do more. She couldn't wait to feel better and have the opportunity to make a difference. Unfortunately, she never got her chance to do so. It is, however, extremely important to us to make sure we do this on her behalf.

    

Nikki's birthday is May 1, 1987. She was a few months shy of turning 26 when we lost her. Obviously, we wanted to acknowledge her birthday and to do something that would make her proud. So, five years ago, we started Nikki's Birthday Concert for a Cure. It's a fun evening out for all with live music, shirts, treats, raffles and more. All the proceeds raised from the event go to Melanoma Research Foundation. In the past five years, with so much help, we have donated almost $30,000! Year after year, this continues to be a true testament to how much Nikki meant to so many people. It's incredibly heartwarming because I know she would just be in awe of all the support she has received.

This year’s event was held on Sunday, May 20th at Music on Main Street in Lilburn, GA and we raised $11,150.00! Each year, the crowd gets bigger and bigger which helps our goal of raising more funds and awareness about this terrible disease. Please check out our Facebook page to see pictures from previous events, and of our Nikki.

The MRF is extremely grateful to CommUNITY Fundraisers like Nikki's Birthday Concert for a Cure who make our work possible. To learn more about hosting your own fundraising and awareness event and how the MRF can support your efforts, contact events@melanoma.org. If you want to make a difference as early as today, please consider a tax-deductible donation to support melanoma research, education and awareness.

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