“I just heard the word cancer and it changed my life forever,” says Nicole Soto, 22, of West New York.
She was only 17 when she got the call from her doctor. She knew something was wrong because she used to have pain all the time when she ate.
“I was forced to take a role of being an adult,” Soto says, adding, she wasn’t ready.
Everyone thinks colon cancer is an old person’s disease.
“But more and more I’m seeing young people get affected by colon cancer, like me,” Soto says.
According to the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer cases are rising among young adults due to physical inactivity, obesity, smoking and consumption of red and processed meat.
Nicole hid being sick for a long time.
“I didn’t want people to know,” says the New Jersey City University nutrition student. “I didn’t want people to feel bad for me.
“When you hear cancer, you hear, ‘oh my G-d, this person is going to die.’ That is not the way I wanted people to see me.”
Nicole has never given up.
“She’s very brave, very determined to beat this disease and we are supporting her on her way,” (with the latest, cutting-edge therapies) says Dr. Martin Gutierrez, director of drug discovery, gastro/thoracic oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center.
“It’s a combination of a challenge and rewarding,” Gutierrez says. “We have done very well for the last several years and we keep fighting.”
Nicole says she left it untreated for about a year.
“I just want people to voice out what they feel in their body,” Soto says. “Because when something’s not right, it’s not right.”
Cancer is not her identity.
“I do my makeup, I do my hair, I have wig pieces, I have wigs,” Soto says. “You know, I don’t let it faze me.”
“It’s something that will never take away… this Nicole,” Soto says.
Nurse Beatriz Diaz really admires Nicole’s strength.
“She’s just always in the mood to battle this and get it over with and do what she needs to do,” says Diaz, of John Theurer Cancer Center at Palisades Medical Center.
The journey’s been a long one.
“Every time that we do surgery and we take something out it’s like, ‘let’s do chemo again.’ And it’s like, ‘okay, another six months of intensive treatment,’” Soto says.
“It feels like I just keep relapsing and it feels like it doesn’t stop.”
Nicole is an inspiration to everyone she meets.
“She’s just such a pleasure to take care of,” says Jo Ann Simon, a nurse practitioner at JTCC. “She has a wonderful attitude; she never gets down and she just shows tremendous strength and acceptance.”
According to Soto, at times her focus has been on things other than her health.
“Now I’m putting 100 percent in everything I do because I wanna be here for a long time,” the 22-year-old says.
“You just gotta appreciate everybody that’s around you and don’t take a minute for granted.”