One night while sleeping in her bed with her daughter, Nicole Miller of Gainesville had a dream that she had breast cancer. Four months later, she was diagnosed with just that.
At age 32, Miller had both breasts removed to avoid having the cancer come back. She also had a hysterectomy after finding out how likely it was that she would develop ovarian cancer.
Unwilling to think of a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, Miller took a look at her situation and decided that not only would she survive, but she found peace and empowerment.
She particularly reflected on her financial struggles through her yearlong ordeal, and how others around her had helped her. Which is why she launched her nonprofit organization Blossoming Butterfly – to support those battling cancer through finances, research and self-care.
What follows has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you name your organization Blossoming Butterfly?
A: Throughout the journey that I was going through having cancer, I had a moment where I felt like the world was over, and I didn’t want to be here, and I was reminded by God that I was a caterpillar going through my metamorphosis stage and I will blossom. So Blossoming Butterfly recognizes those women who are currently battling and have already battled breast cancer. We just want to show them that we love them, that we’re here and that we care.
Q: Tell us more about how your organization helps those who come its way.
A: So we have a monthly hourlong group session called Breast Therapy, and that is a time for you to just relax and meet other people that you can relate to. When you might be sad, depressed or just overwhelmed, you have people that can relate to you, that you’ve connected with, that you can call. But also, if a woman comes here and needs help getting food, needs wigs, needs help with a cell phone bill, like other necessities, if we can’t provide that, then we have resources where we’ll connect them. And we won’t just give them a piece of paper and push them off.
Q: What are some of the resources that you give people?
A: So we have partnerships with other nonprofits that are here in Gainesville. They offer utility and food assistance. Sometimes we don’t have the money to pay the whole rent, however, I really believe we’ll get to the point where we can do more long-term help. But until we are at that point, then we’re just giving as the money comes in. People ask and we give.
Q: How do you think that you’ve defied the odds stacked against you, especially considering breast cancer is the No. 2 killer in Black women?
A: When I first met my radiation doctor, she told me that, “As long as you listen to me, you’ll be just fine.’ And she was right. She gave me knowledge that I didn’t have before I walked through her doors, and for a whole hour she broke everything down to me. And it made me do more research myself. And I would tell anyone who is diagnosed with any cancer, not just breast cancer, to listen to your doctor, but also educate yourself.
Q: So you said that you had Stage II. What do you think would have happened if you would have had a mammogram just a couple of months earlier or later?
A: I’ve always thought about that, even when I was first diagnosed. I’m like when I had that dream in January, had I just gone to the doctor and had a biopsy, it probably would have been Stage I because it was probably like the size of a dime. And it had gotten to the size of about a 50 cent piece. It was very aggressive. I did kind of beat myself up, like, why didn’t I go? Then I wouldn’t have had to have such aggressive treatment like radiation and chemotherapy.
Q: What were some more of your thoughts through the whole process?
A: At one point, I’m like, ’Oh, God, I’m no longer a woman. I had a total hysterectomy. Both of my breasts are gone. My hair is gone. Like what’s left? And I’m like, ‘OK, stop! You are still a woman. It’s still fine. Your hair will grow back. You’ve got new breasts and women get hysterectomies all the time.’ So, you know, it’s just a mental thing. It really is. It’s a mindset – and we are stronger than we think as women.
Q: If you could say anything to those battling cancer, what would it be?
A: What I learned after being diagnosed is not to forget to live. Because we get so consumed about the diagnosis that we feel like we died. We kill ourselves before we die instead of focusing on living. So any woman that I am in contact with that is diagnosed with cancer, I tell them, and I can say this because I’ve been there, I understand the diagnosis. I understand what you’re going through – but still live. Did you want to build a house before this? Build a house. Did you want to go on a trip? Go on a trip with whoever you can get in the car – and just go take a ride. Still see the world. You’re not dead. You still can breathe. As long as you can get around, go. Take advantage of the time. You can’t allow cancer to defeat you. Use positive affirmations, journal, have friends to uplift motivate you and start with Blossoming Butterfly. Come see me.