My Story of Cancer: Cause, Care and Cure

By Jackie Nickel (2003)

“I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news. The tumor was malignant.”

The words had hardly left the surgeon’s lips when the numbness set in. I went dead inside, stone cold, seeming to look down from above on this unbelievable scene in a
doctor’s office on Belair Rd. three and a half years ago. How could a stupid lump on the inside of my upper arm, nowhere near my breast or vital organs, be cancer?

It wasn’t a skin cancer, this damned lump, but a growth deep inside my arm. It was soft and moveable, the size of a jelly bean, when I first felt it while rubbing my
arm a year before. I mentioned it to a doctor who told me it was probably just a lypoma, a fatty non-malignant tumor, but should be removed anyway. He referred me to a
surgeon downtown at Mercy Hospital, writing the phone number on a card. Then life stepped in and the card got lost among the receipts and gumwrappers in the bottom of
my purse. The lump was just a harmless ball of fat anyhow.

Life and times

There was a hotbed of political strife in my community in the year 2000 with Senate Bill 509 and the referendum/election and I was right in the middle of
it. Trips to Annapolis, meetings, strategy sessions, petitions, lobbying, ear and elbow bending. Every time I’d feel the lump, it would remind me of my promise to get
it taken care of but there just wasn’t time, especially to travel to a not-so-great part of the city to an unfamiliar medical practice. I even went so far as to call my
insurance company to make sure they’d cover a procedure at Mercy and there was no problem. But I put it off.

In early 2001 it was obvious that the lump was growing and becoming more solid and attached. Things had settled down in my life and I finally made an appointment with a
surgeon I knew at Franklin Square.

Dr. A. Vanguri checked out the lump and agreed it had to be removed but I insisted on his using just a local anesthetic. I’m usually more afraid of being “put under”
than of surgery itself, and I’ve had my share of both. The operation, done in an OR at Franklin Square, seemed to go OK although it took longer than I anticipated.
Through the numbness I could feel Dr. V. pulling to release the tumor which had grown to the size of a small egg. Of course it was sent for biopsy, which brings us to
my follow-up visit, described above.

The word CANCER sends chills down my spine and seems to stick in my throat as I try to say it. My parents both died of the horrible disease, but theirs was LUNG cancer
caused by years of smoking. I’ve never smoked so why…? I drove home in a fog, repeating Hail Marys over and over and over. Then I started cleaning house, throwing
things out. No use leaving all this junk for my kids to go through when I’m dead. And I hadn’t even told them yet.

Plan of attack

Dr. V. sent me to see Dr.George Elias, Chief of Surgical Oncology at Franklin Square, a man known for his precise treatment of the disease. My son John
went with me, all 6-ft. 7 of him. He was the rock to lean on as I almost passed out during the explanation of my cancer and more surgery to come. This was a very
aggressive type of blood-borne cancer, some of which still remained in my arm and might have spread beyond. Dr. Elias warned me of the consequences of not following
through on treatment until I told him I didn’t want to know any more. He was stern yet fatherly and I knew my life was in this man’s hands.

There were CT scans and blood tests and the decision to do surgery followed by radiation or chemotherapy, depending on the outcome. I was so cold during those days of
testing and waiting, I felt like I was already in the tomb. Meanwhile, I found great relief in talking to anyone who would listen, but especially those who had lived
through the disease. And I prayed. I prayed in church and in the car, in bed and in the grocery line. I put myself on the prayer list at Mt. Carmel and friends put me
on prayer lists all the way from Hope Lutheran in Middleborough to the Monastery in Catonsville.

The next surgery went well with excellent treatment in the oncology unit at FSH where I spent one night. Dr. E. set up the unit, the nurses told me, with private rooms
and lots of personnel to attend to patients’ needs. But when I went back for my check-up, Dr.Elias wasn’t happy. “Our margin isn’t good enough,” he said. “We have to go
back in.” I wasn’t at all upset, but thankful for a surgeon who wanted more than just “good enough” for me. I was blessed.

We had to wait until my foot-long incision “cooled down” enough to go in again. I was taking vitamins and drinking green tea and meditating a lot to prepare myself for
the next round. Cards and flowers were coming in from friends and relatives and my kids got me laughing when my mood was at its darkest. My friend Carole who had nursed
more than one person through cancer was perhaps my best support, a sounding board at any time, day or night.

Then I discovered a power within myself, a glowing white light I could visualize flowing into me, warming my bones and burning away the poison of cancer. I could turn
it on at any time, anywhere. I welcomed the whiteness throughout my body and surrendered to its healing as I went under the knife for a third time. All went well in the
hospital and I nervously waited for the biopsy “margin” results. A few days later, my son and I went to Dr. Elias’ office for the report and ran into him in the waiting
room. He opened his arms saying “We’re clear now” and I gave him a big hug and cried.

Then we discussed treatment to make sure all stray cancer cells were destroyed. Dr. E. ordered six weeks of radiation treatments and check-ups four times a year for who
knows how long. I didn’t care. I was still alive.

Franklin Square radiation machines at the time couldn’t rotate around my arm the way my treatment mandated so I was sent to St. Joe’s for treatment. The staff there was
wonderful but it was tough sometimes as my arm became redder and more tender to drive to Towson in the hot summer of 2001. I bought an off-white, long-sleeved, light-
weight man’s cotton shirt at the thrift store to protect my arm. I wore it over a tank top every single day that summer, washing it out each night. It was loose fitting
enough to accommodate the vaseline-saturated gauze that soothed my burned arm and it slipped off easily several times each day when I soaked my arm in a healing
solution. It protected my arm from the sun when I began to work my way through the weeks outside in the garden. And it kept me from getting arrested since I couldn’t
wear a bra.


Following the radiation treatments came exercise to regain strength in my arm. But I was still very tired, whether it was from stress or the radiation or a
combination I don’t know. So I continued to work part-time waiting to build up my stamina. I read and took naps and long drives with friends, appreciating each day.
When I turned 60, I decided to collect my Social Security widow’s benefits rather than waiting until age 62 or 65. A few dollars more wasn’t worth the gamble I thought.
I could do freelance writing parttime and devote the rest of the week to community work and enjoying the things I’d been missing out on. The most wonderful new
diversion came with the birth of my grandson Thomas 16 months ago.

I didn’t die from the cancer but learned to live through it. I made it with the help of faith, friends, family and wonderful care. This doesn’t mean the cancer can’t or
won’t come back. I had a basal cell skin cancer removed from the bridge of my nose just this summer. The disease can return in many forms, especially in a family so
predisposed and I’m always on the alert for signs, sometimes over anxious perhaps. But I know where to go to get help when I need it. And it’s all close to home now…
so there are no more excuses for putting things off.

P.S. Since my diagnosis going on four years ago, many of my friends and acquaintances are undergoing similar battles. My personal prayer list seems to be getting longer
as months go by. Early detection is the key to beating cancer so please get regular check-ups and know your own body signs. Let your inner light guide you to peace,
health and happiness. J.N.

A few years later the cancer returned. Jackie passed away on August 17th, 2007, a few weeks after her 65th birthday.

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Jackie Nickel interviews Essex residents at Baltimore County Waterfront Festival (5/13/2006)

Festival will highlight the county’s waterfront
Event will help raise money for aviation museum

By Kristi Funderburk (Baltimore Sun, May 12, 2006)

When a dozen seaplanes touch down on Martin’s Lagoon, the festival will begin.

The second Baltimore County Community Waterfront Festival, set for tomorrow in Middle River, includes music, food and crafts – and, naturally, a boat show.

It also offers a chance to learn about an aviation pioneer, meet an astronaut and climb into the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Some of the proceeds from the festival, which is designed to highlight the county’s 175 miles of waterfront, will go to the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum.


Throughout the day, visitors can tour the museum’s new exhibits and get a close look at a small squadron of aircraft.

About 20,000 people are expected to attend, and $40,000 to $45,000 is expected to be raised, said John Markley, deputy director of the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, which organized the festival.

John Tipton, the aviation museum’s marketing communications director, said money from the event will go toward building an education center for engineering and, later, a larger museum.

“We’re a small museum, a little unknown and out of the way,” he said, “but we want to become a cultural destination point for the community.”

Continue reading at The Baltimore Sun.

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Essex Motto: Never Forget Where You Came From!

By Jackie Nickel (5/2/2007)

What a weekend! My house did not get cleaned, my grass did not get cut, my refrigerator is nearly empty, and laundry is piled high in the hamper. But I met dozens of wonderful Essex folks and sold lots of my new Essex history book. But this is not about me or the books, it’s about the people I’ve met while promoting the history.

First one comes to mind was the most awesome encounter of all so far. I was sitting at the doorway of Borders during a signing, thinking that mall shoppers are not much into book buying, especially Essex history, when a lady stopped and picked up the book and before she even opened it, she told me her great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper at Pooles Island. Ohmagosh, I was stunned. As I turned to two pics of Pooles Island (courtesy Dan Hubers), I admitted that while they probably didn’t belong in an Essex book, I just couldn’t resist. After all, I live on the Essex waterfront and look across the water each day at the island discovered by Capt. John Smith that later became a federal munitions target and now is strictly off limits for civilians. I’ll write more in a future article about Pooles, but as if that weren’t enough, she then told me her grandfather was the Postmaster of the old Middle River P.O. near the railroad station that stood across the tracks from Harrison Ave. in “old” Middle River. So we’ve been exchanging E-mails ever since, I sent her copies of my previous book and soon will meet her mom. Wow.

Soon thereafter, another lady stopped by to look at books and mentioned she was a descendant of the Walters family who owned the first general store at what later became known as Josenhans Corner. I feel like I’m meeting celebrities when folks with such long ancestral roots introduce themselves. My family came to the waterfront in 1916 as summer dwellers but that doesn’t hold a candle to these pioneers who actually settled the land. I also met one of the Schluderbergs that day and pointed to the old photo of the Somogyi farm on Back River Neck where the Schluderberg Kurdle (Esskay) meat company fattened up pigs and cattle in the early 1900s. He told me the animals were shipped up to Conkling St. where the slaughterhouse was located. I also mentioned to him that our families are neighbors at Oak Lawn cemetery. Doesn’t everyone know who their neighbors are at the cemetery? We have beautiful monuments at Oak Lawn and I’ve strolled among them for years, noting names, dates and unique designs.

This past weekend in Essex well over 75 people stopped by, eager to talk Essex history, tour the Heritage Society Museum, check out old photos and, of course, buy books. Several folks recognized their ancestors in old pictures in the museum’s collection, which was quite a thrill for the younger generation. Three folks to date have found deceased relatives who were members of the Vigilant Volunteers pictured on the cover of my book. Three different families commented on the memoir of Slava Matejka we recently published and related that they were her neighbors on Old Eastern Ave. and so enjoyed her story. Another lady traced her roots to the Hughes and Carback families, pioneers of Back River Neck. I’ll be gathering more information from them in the future.

Then at last, I got to meet my E-mail friend and Civil War buff Howard Smith. He and I have been going back and forth for months on his efforts to document a Civil War encampment at the railroad bridge over Back River. I haven’t been able to contribute much other than acting as a cheerleader but Howard has come up with loads of info, even reading the daily reports of various groups stationed there, noting the capture of a schooner transporting troops and goods to the Confederacy! We’ve all heard the stories of big boats traveling up river in what now is muck and mud – hard to believe, but true. Remember when remnants of a wooden ship were discovered during the construction of Route 702 in 1978? I sure would like to find the newspaper article describing that incident. Folks from Upperlanding and adjacent streets in Essex recall boats cruising right into their neighborhoods to sell fruit and produce from Baltimore. What great stories!

A few “Mystery Photos” drew lots of attention. One is of a milkshake and ice cream shop, a detached building with a large parking area with cars ca. early 50s. Bill and Bill from Catherine’s Florist dropped by and ID’d that one as the old location of the flower shop which later became a pest control office. The awning pictured was still on the building when it became a florist shop. And as if that weren’t enough detail, another visitor identified herself as a former carhop at the dairy bar and said the owner was a Georgie Sauers, whose family also owned a grocery store near S. Marlyn.

Another picture was of Willy’s Appliance housed in a familiar looking concrete block building, which we learned was on Riverside Drive not far from the Moose hall. We have lots of pics of the Moose too, and wonderful “new” old photos of the Hiway movie, inside and out, provided by Shirley and Herb Weimer, owners of the now-closed Squirrels Nest Antiques. A big thank you to them for sharing about 20 previously “lost” photos of businesses in Essex.

Another expression of gratitude goes out to Vigilant Federal Savings Bank, our first real corporate supporter, for purchasing a quantity of books for distribution to board members and employees. Thank you!

And of course sincere appreciation to the Heritage Society for opening their doors to me. I hope we brought in enough new visitors to spur on new support and volunteers for their efforts and a portion of my book sale proceeds from Sunday is being donated to them. Next Saturday, May 5, I’ll be at CnS Trading Co., Country Ridge, from noon-1 p.m. Stop by and chat – I’m writing it all down for the next edition!

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