Nicole is only 28 years old, but has packed a lot of great experiences into her life before she was hit with this shattering diagnosis. Nicole went to high school at New Mexico Military Institute, earned her Business degree at Baylor University, and followed that up with a Master’s degree in Hospitality and Retail Management from Texas Tech University. After school, her career goals consisted mostly of “doing cool things in cool places.” Thankfully, working in the hospitality industry lends itself pretty well to globetrotting in search of exciting new experiences. Nicole started by working her way through Australia on everything from vineyards, to horse farms, to tall ships. After spending over a year in the land down under, she came home to Ruidoso, New Mexico. She offered to draw upon her travels as inspiration to help us start our family-run gourmet food and wine store, The Cork & Kettle. After a year of running the store Nicole decided to head off again for another adventure abroad; this time in New Zealand.
The Unexpected Battle
Nicole was loving her time in New Zealand. So far, she had worked at a winery, a luxury lodge, and the New Zealand Winter Games. She was preparing to start yet another dream job as a tour guide at Hobbiton, when life threw her a major curve ball.
She had been growing increasingly tired and run-down over the course of several weeks, but chalked this up to normal travel exhaustion. However, after not being able to shake the feeling, she stopped in at a small health clinic, suspecting some standard flu meds would clear things right up. They took one look at her pale complexion and sent her off in an ambulance to the hospital up the road. The tests there showed that she had been functioning with blood levels that were less than a third of what they should have been! The doctors and nurses kept exclaiming that her levels were the lowest they had ever seen. Nicole shouldn’t have even been able to stand, but she was so focused on her travels that she had been skiing, hiking, and horseback riding right through it all. We’re quite convinced she had a guardian angel on her shoulder.
Nicole was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia, which is an extremely rare form of bone marrow failure. Only 2 people out of a million are diagnosed with this annually. It is a life threatening condition where the stem cells in her bone marrow inexplicably stopped producing every single type of blood cell. She did not have enough red cells to carry oxygen, platelets to clot, or white cells for her immune system. Nicole's New Zealand medical team assessed the situation and due to these dangerously low blood levels, they opted to send her home as soon as possible. Within days, Nicole was on a plane bound for the United States.
Back in New Mexico, her new medical team jumped into action and administered the first treatment option. While this treatment seemed to have a promising response at first, she relapsed within the year and her blood levels once again started to drop.
The only chance of a full "cure" for Severe Aplastic Anemia is a bone marrow transplant. This type of transplant kills off all of Nicole’s non-working cells and replaces them with working cells from a donor. Nicole's brother and sister were both tested for compatibility as donors and her sister, Lexie, was a 10/10 match! A stem cell match is more rare than you might expect and we were so excited to have some hope on the horizon.
That's when the next challenge presented itself. Bone marrow transplants are highly specialized and complex procedures, and New Mexico does not have a facility anywhere in the state to do them. In order for us to get this life-saving treatment, we had to look elsewhere. Nicole did a ton of research, and found the medical team at the University of California San Diego, Moores Cancer Center was a great match for treating her rare condition. After consulting with the transplant team in San Diego, we knew we needed to get Nicole to Southern California.
At the end of this April Nicole, Lexie and I packed up the car and headed to San Diego to begin the transplant process. The original transplant was scheduled for May 25, but we hit another bump in the road. Some unexpected anomalies were found during a preliminary bone marrow biopsy. The medical team put the procedure on hold until they could run further tests. They believe that her Severe Aplastic Anemia is evolving into Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), which is another version of bone marrow failure that falls on the cancerous end of the spectrum. This was a development that was just as rare and surprising as Nicole’s original diagnosis… might as well go big or go home, right? Chemo will now start on July 14th, and the new bone marrow transplant day is set for July 20th.
Because the transplant process completely wipes out Nicole’s immune system, she has to completely regrow it from scratch using Lexie’s newly loaned stem cells. This requires a significant recuperation period. Transplant day is actually considered a “new birthday” as her defense system is equivalent to that of a newborn’s.
Following the transplant, Nicole will require 24/7 care for 6 months to a year. We will have to remain in San Diego during her recovery period, so that we can monitor her progress closely through follow-up appointments several times each week at the hospital. We also have to isolate her from exposure to anything that might make her sick while she has no immune system. We've found an apartment just 9 miles from the Cancer Center, and are preparing what we’ve been calling "The Bubble" for our lengthy stay here.
This has been quite the endeavor for our entire family. Lexie took leave from her job in Montana so she could help me as Nicole's full-time caretaker. I am working from San Diego, striving to keep everything moving forward. Nicole’s dad, Mark, has stayed in New Mexico to juggle all of the responsibilities at home. He is coming out to visit and provide moral support as often as possible.
How You Can Help
We've had so many people ask us how they can help, and we are so grateful for your concern! For us country bumpkins from New Mexico, the cost of living in Southern California has been the biggest burden. We are seeking help with funds to defray the cost of medical and living expenses while we work to get Nicole healthy again.
Any gifts are greatly appreciated, and will go a long way towards helping our battle against Nicole's bone marrow failure. Please share this campaign with friends and family. If you're not able to donate, then send all of your positive thoughts and prayers our way. Every little bit helps!
We'll keep you posted as we progress along this journey! Thanks again for your support.
The Doth Family