Nicole Cosby is a Washington, DC based corporate attorney, business owner, and 7-year breast cancer survivor. Nicole has been a Kicked It In Heels honoree and she has graciously agreed to share some thoughts about her journey, some of the challenges she faced, and words of encouragement for those who are walking this journey too.
Q: Can you tell us about your journey and how you found out about your diagnosis?
A: My journey began at age 43 when my regularly scheduled mammography was inconclusive. Although I was disturbed by those results, I went about my business for the next 4 months. But despite no visible lump and an “inconclusive” 3D mammogram, which I was told was common – something “within” just didn’t feel right, so I went to my primary physician. She heard me. She understood and immediately sent me for a biopsy. Then I received the call from the lab tech saying, “you have cancer, good luck.”
As a single, black woman at age 43, I began my treatment journey with a one month “emergency compassionate care” process to freeze my eggs (oh dear you’re quite old). Five months of chemo accompanied by everything from hair loss to weight loss but baby soft skin (who knew); no taste buds or eyebrows but improved vision. The irony!
Next came five weeks of radiation (oh dear you’re so young). More wigs than I can count and a new-found respect for any woman who can rock one without sweating their face off in the summer. Three surgeries – two of which were to correct the damage from the radiation and a new “sidehustle” in the daily management of navigating insurance, hospital billing statements and making sure I’m making the best medical decisions, balancing healing with side-effects. With no marked family history and not a BRCA gene carrier, the best explanation given to me was a “random” gene mutation combined with “environmental factors”. The silver lining, as I sit “on the other side” healthy and living my life to the fullest is that “your new life is going to cost you your old one” – and for that I’m grateful.
Q: What’s one unique thing that helped you during your treatment?
A: The greatest “help” during my treatment was my own mindset. After the initial shock of learning that I had cancer, I never viewed this as a “diagnosis” but instead as a project to be tackled, solved and won. Cancer became my new “job” for the moment, and I tried to face each challenge with a “can do” attitude. Of course, not every day was sunny, but in my mind, there was no other option but to win.
Q: What was one challenge that you faced during treatment that could have stopped you from receiving quality health care?
A: To suffer a long-term illness in this country is a financial luxury. At the time of my diagnosis, I had recently departed a full-time job (and insurance) to branch out on my own. With the surprise of cancer and only Cobra to cover years of treatment, I was blessed to encounter a knowledgeable nurse practitioner who guided me to the DC Medicare system, which covered virtually all of my treatment with the top doctors in the area. The thought that a chance conversation with a nurse literally saved me from bankruptcy and possibly my life, remains a bitter chapter in my journey and it angers me that many women aren’t afforded the luxury of a financial option toward survival along their journey.
Q: Share an encouraging message with someone who just got diagnosed.
A: Give yourself grace, space, and time. Give yourself the grace to be stunned, shocked, angry, and overwhelmed, but don’t dwell there because you have living to do. Give yourself the space to shut out the internet, well-meaning advice givers, and even friends and family for a moment – and take the space you need to come to terms with your diagnosis, develop your treatment plan, and weigh the best options for your survival. Give yourself the time to grow in, grow through, and grow beyond this diagnosis. There’s beauty on the horizon.