Lymphoma Survivor, Nicole C. Bullock, released “If I Be Lifted Up,” an inspirational stress relieving “coloring therapy” book for the SOUL. A native of Chicago, IL, currently residing in Lynwood, Nicole is the Founder and CEO of The Nicole Cares Foundation.
Nicole began this foundation on her hospital bed while battling Stage 2B Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. At the time of her diagnosis, she did not know what lymphoma was or anyone with the disease. She believes God placed a calling on her life to raise awareness about lymphoma and help others in the fight. Today, Nicole is cancer-free and using her experience to help others.
The Chicago Defender had a chance to talk with Nicole about her mission to serve those in need, her foundation, and her own story of survival.
Chicago Defender: What is Lymphoma?
Nicole Bullock: Lymphoma is cancer that begins in cells of the immune system, called lymphocytes. These cells are in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and other body parts. When you have lymphoma, lymphocytes change and grow out of control, sometimes forming a mass.
It is not as common in African Americans. I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When they diagnosed me, my doctor said this type of lymphoma typically affects white males who are 60 and over and primarily sedentary. I did not fit any of these specifics.
Chicago Defender: How were you diagnosed?
Nicole Bullock: In the spring of 2016, I felt tired quite a bit and started losing weight. I thought it was because I was doing too much, but it progressed. I always felt like I had something in my throat. I went to the ER, and they told me I had acid reflux, gave me a prescription, and sent me on my way. I never had any relief, so I went back to the doctor, and they confirmed it was acid reflux and upped my medication. It got to the point where I could hardly walk any distance and was having trouble breathing when l lay down. I finally went to my primary care doctor, who did a chest x-ray. The other doctors never did that. My doctor called me later and told me I had a mass the size of an eggplant in my chest. This mass was pressing on my trachea, and that is why I was having such a hard time breathing. I had a biopsy, and in September 2013, my doctor diagnosed me with Stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The hospital admitted me immediately. That is when my cancer journey began.
Chicago Defender: Wow! From Acid Reflux to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
Nicole Bullock: Precisely and it was a huge mass. Not only was this mass pressing on my trachea, but it had also caused a blood clot in my main artery. My doctor said if this had continued for a few more weeks, my head would have swollen because the clot was in the main artery that delivered blood to my brain.
This is why I tell people to be your own advocate. Had I not continued to press doctors about what was going on with me, who knows what stage the cancer would have been when a doctor finally diagnosed me. I must stress that. It is so essential for us to advocate for ourselves. I do not care what the doctor says; no one knows your body better than you. I might not be here today if I had not advocated for myself and others in their lives. Seek a second opinion if you need to.
Chicago Defender: When did you decide to create Nicole Cares Foundation?
Nicole Bullock: While I was going through this journey, I knew this was bigger than me because I did not fit this disease’s criteria. God had a purpose in allowing this to happen to me. Because of the type of cancer I had, it required hospitalization for chemotherapy. It was an aggressive form of cancer. All my life, I worked out and ate healthily, and I felt like it was all for nothing. My doctor told me that if I had not had such healthy habits, I would not have been able to get through this treatment. Most people get chemo for a few hours and go home. I had chemo for 24 hours a day for five consecutive days, and I did that eight times. It was in my hospital bed that God gave me the vision to bring awareness to this disease. That is how the Nicole Cares Foundation was born.
The Nicole Cares Foundation is a nonprofit organization created to assist individuals and families affected by lymphoma by raising awareness, raising funds for research and a cure, and survivorship services after completing treatment.
Nicole Bullock: In addition to our hospital outreach, we offer financial support for patients and a support group called “The Aftermath.” We also host blood drives because cancer patients need transfusions if their hemoglobin levels get too low.
Chicago Defender: How did your therapy coloring book, “If I Be Lifted Up,” come about?
Nicole Bullock: “If I Be Lifted Up” came about as a direct result of COVID-19. Part of the outreach that the Nicole Cares Foundation provides involves visiting patients. We deliver care packages, pray with patients, and encourage them. In our care packages, we usually include a water bottle, blanket, lip balm, puzzles, playing cards, and a bible or something inspirational to help while in the hospital. Often when patients learn that I am also a cancer survivor, it gives them hope, especially for African American patients.
In March 2020, I watched reports of those with COVID dying alone in hospitals, and I immediately thought of cancer patients. While I was receiving treatment, the love and support of my family and friends helped me tremendously. When you are in the hospital receiving treatment, you have a lot of alone time, especially during the day. Having visits from friends and family helped to pass the time. I thought of cancer patients alone in the hospital and wondered what I could do.
That is how the coloring book came about.
Nicole wanted to help people battling cancer, depression, grief, anxiety from sheltering in place, and racial unrest in America during the pandemic.
Chicago Defender: Many therapists often use coloring Books as Therapy or Stress Relief. What made you decide to incorporate spiritual messages throughout the book?
Nicole Bullock: God showed me things like depression, loneliness, sadness, and suicide. These, amongst other things, were increasing because of quarantine and the pandemic. It was then that I decided this book should be for everyone, not only cancer patients. People are battling so many other things now as well. People are sheltering in place and are alone. I believed that something inspirational and uplifting was needed during this time. People are battling so many other things now as well.
That is why I titled the book “If I Be Lifted Up.” It is about encouraging people, offering hope, and lifting people up. I added the spiritual piece to the book because my faith is what helped me through my journey. I wanted to include bible scriptures and encouraging quotes to let people know they were not alone. Even if you do not have a bible, you can read scripture or a positive quote.
I also wanted to make sure there was representation in the book. I wanted images that reflected us. The book is for everyone, but representation is still important.
Chicago Defender: Your journey is one of strength and resilience. What do you want people experiencing the same thing or any struggle or fight to know?
Nicole Bullock: I am human. I was upset and distraught, but I never questioned or became angry with God. I never asked, “Why me.” I knew God would bring me through this. I want people to continue to hold on to hope and faith. I believe this is part of my assignment; to bring awareness to this disease. I had to share my journey and tell how God healed my body. One day I hope the lime green ribbon is synonymous with lymphoma like pink is for breast cancer.
Chicago Defender: What an incredible journey. Despite it all, there is so much to be thankful for.
Nicole Bullock: I could not have made it without the love and support of my husband, mother, sister, children, and close friends. It was my faith, family, and friends that carried me through my cancer journey. I give God all the glory and praise for healing my body.
“If I Be Lifted Up” is also available now on Amazon for $12.99. This coloring book has over 50 intricate stress relieving designs with a bible scripture or positive affirmation on each page. It is an excellent activity for ALL ages and makes a great Self-Care Christmas or Kwanza holiday gift. A portion of the proceeds will assist people in battling lymphoma and other cancers.
To donate to her foundation or purchase her book, visit her website at https://www.nicolecares.org. Follow Nicole Cares Foundation on Facebook and Instagram @nicolcaresfoundation and Twitter, @nicolecaresfoundation930.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.