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Nicole's Story

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Nicole Obenski’s cancer story began with a few bad chicken fingers when she was 19. What might have been a minor encounter with salmonella was the start of a longer, more dangerous struggle with ulcerative colitis.

 

For the next 15 years, Imodium, anxiety, and occasional hospitalization became a regular part of her life.

The first class of drugs Nicole tried were ineffective against her IBD. She was reluctant to try the more powerful drugs out of concern about the side effects. Instead, she was able to achieve some symptom relief by aggressively managing her diet and taking plant-based supplements. But she could never get the inflammation fully under control. 

The months before her cancer diagnosis were challenging. Her colitis was active and she went through two miscarriages. Over Christmas of 2016, she began to feel extreme fatigue and was hospitalized with anemia.

"Between my years of colitis and fertility struggles, I didn't think anything could be worse, until the cancer came."

A follow up colonoscopy in January revealed an 8 cm tumor in her colon. It wasn’t long before a 6 cm tumor was also found in her liver with more cancer in her abdominal cavity and nearby lymph nodes. 

Even worse, the tumors were too large to be removed.

 

Nicole, however, was undaunted. She started treatment immediately to shrink the tumors. 

 

The strategy seemed to be a success. In March 2018, after eight months of chemotherapy and two surgeries, there was no evidence of disease remaining in her body. 

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When her colon finally came out, she considered it a double relief. “People that have experienced colon cancer with no family history or inflammatory bowel disease may view having an ostomy as a burden. For me, it is a win-win, as I no longer have colitis and I also beat cancer.”

With a new lease on life, she spent time with family, traveled with her husband, and returned to work as a special education and biology teacher at Radnor High School. 

She also became a fundraiser and advocate for colon cancer patients. Nicole had fought for her own life. Now she wanted to fight for others. 

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A radiant beauty, Nicole was the kind of person you could imagine gracing a magazine cover -- just probably not a magazine about metastatic cancer.

But Nicole was determined to share her story and raise awareness.

 

"I volunteer so no one else has to hear 'you have colon cancer.'"

"Listen to your body, get screenings and annual checkups. Do not let anything go."

Unfortunately, Nicole’s remission was not to last. In December of 2018, her cancer came back. She passed away on November 12, 2019, surrounded by her devoted family.  

She left a legacy of love and selflessness, a spirit that her family continues through the Cole Cares Foundation with scholarships in her honor for aspiring teachers and support for the fight against colorectal cancer. 

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