'Million Dollar Woman' a miracle, happy to be alive
August 04, 2010 - Pam Nichols scored a 75 percent on her last test. But instead of getting a C, she got a second chance at life.
Nichols, co-owner of Oakhaven Farm with her husband Nick, received biopsy results showing that 75 percent of her bone mass was filled with marrow, and 100 percent of that marrow was donated.
"That means none of it was cancerous," said Pam Nichols, who has been battling chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) since early 2008. Six months ago, she went into remission.
"At first, I was told I had a 45 percent chance to live, even with the transplant," said Nichols, 63. "Really, I should not be here today."
It is that realization which makes every day beautiful to Nichols, who said she enjoys the little things now, like driving a car for the first time in two years.
"I remember one day I was in the car alone, driving home from Ortonville, and it just felt so good to be alive," she said. "It's such a hard thing to explain to someone else."
Nichols was given two years to live when she was first diagnosed with CMML. And though it's been more than two years, it hasn't always been easy.
"When I started chemo, everything in my body crashed," she said.
She even lost 150 pounds.
"I got to experience being a tiny person again," Nichols said lightheartedly. "That's probably not the best way to lose weight, though."
It wasn't until Nichols received a stem cell transplant in August 2008 that things started to turn around.
Nichols's sister, Janice Jackson of Port Huron, donated her bone marrow to save a sister she barely knew.
"Our family split up when we were young. I never saw my sister when we were growing up. Even when we saw each other as adults, it was like we were strangers," Nichols said.
When Jackson found out that she was an excellent match for Nichols's bone marrow, she was willing to do anything to help.
"We're not strangers anymore," Nichols said.
Last year, on the one-year anniversary of the transplant, both of Pam Nichols's sisters came to the hospital to visit.
"We keep in touch. There's a bond there that wasn't there before," she said.
Not only has her relationship with her siblings grown, but she has had the opportunity to see her grandchildren grow up, too.
"I have seven grandkids between 3- and 13-years-old," she said. "They're very, very special to me, and being with them is so important."
Since the news of her remission, Nichols said she has been getting stronger every day. She even plans on walk-ing in the survivor's parade at Genesys Hospital on Aug. 13.
"When I go to Henry Ford Hospital, they tell me, 'You are a miracle,' because I should not be here today," she said.
Nichols is known as a miracle at Henry Ford, but her husband calls her something different. "Nick says I'm his Million Dollar Woman. And really, he's right. Our insurance has spent more than a million dollars on me," she said.
Nichols's operation alone cost between $200,000 and $300,000, but it was covered in full. On top of that, she said she has spent at least six months in the hospital.
"Every time they found something questionable in my tests, they'd just tell me to stay in the hospital," she said. "I would beg them to let me go home."
Nichols's home has been through a lot, too. A fire destroyed the house last year, and it is only recently rebuilt. Nichols said her home is her santuary, and she's so grateful to have it back.
"We're so fortunate for so many things," she said.
More than insurance money or a rebuilt home, Nichols said she is most grateful for her husband, known as Farmer Nick throughout the area.
"That man has had to do things for me that no human should ever have to do for another," she said. "He definitely showed me what it means to be truly loved."
Nichols and her husband will be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in August. Just another reason to be happy to be alive, Nichols said.