By Alyce Collins
THIS WOMAN was just THREE YEARS OLD when she walked into a hospital never to walk out again after a routine biopsy on a lump on her back SEVERED her spinal cord, leaving her permanently paralysed.
Student and blogger Nicole Biddulph (19) from Devon, UK, was just three years old when her parents found a golf ball-sized lump on her back, which biopsies later revealed was cancerous.
Nicole was just three years old in May 2003 when her parents noticed the lump and went to get it checked. An ultrasound and X-ray both came back inconclusive, but an MRI revealed a large mass surrounding her spine.
It was decided that a biopsy should be carried out in September 2003 to test the tumour for cancerous cells. During the biopsy, when Nicole was just four years old, the doctors severed Nicole’s spinal cord because the tumour was wrapped around it, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.
The damage caused Nicole’s spine to collapse and it needed to be pinned back together with spinal rods, which she still has in her spine to this day.
As a young child, Nicole had to undergo intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy to get rid of the tumour which was found to be fibrosarcoma, as well as coming to terms with her new life with a disability.
Through the years, Nicole has undergone numerous spinal surgeries to correct the scoliosis she developed which caused shooting pains in her back.
“My parents first noticed a lump on my back one day in May 2003 when was I was only three,” said Nicole.
“It looked like a golf ball under my skin, so an MRI was done in September 2003 after and X-ray and ultrasound were done which came back inconclusive. The MRI showed a large mass surrounding my spine.
“After looking at the results from the MRI, I was sent for a biopsy because they wanted to find out what the mass was.
“The biopsy was done to remove a small amount of the tumour to test it to see which cancer it was and how best to treat it. However, the instruments used in the process managed to sever my spinal cord as the tumour was pretty much wrapped around it.
“It didn’t go to plan and I ended up being paralysed from the waist down. That wasn’t the only thing to deal with, that was just the aftermath.
“The actual lump they found was diagnosed as fibrosarcoma, so not only was I now paralysed but I also had to deal with cancer and the treatment that came with it.
“I was very ill and was placed in critical care. I was really young, so all my family had the pressure put on their shoulders, which wasn’t a good time for anybody.
“Once we had the diagnosis we then had to focus on the treatment. All I remember about being in hospital was throwing up constantly.
“The chemotherapy was really strong and intense and it pretty much damaged my immune system and my hair fell out.
“The radiotherapy was quite uncomfortable too because I had to lie on a hard surface for quite a long period of time during each session. I had four months of chemotherapy and 30 sessions of radiotherapy.
“I kept being sick and couldn’t keep anything down, so I had to have a nose tube fitted to feed me. The feeling of it going through your nose and down to your stomach was the worst thing ever.
“Eventually the treatments got rid of the tumour completely and it hasn’t come back since. It was difficult to read my scans because of all the scar tissue around the tumour. Regular MRI follow ups didn’t show any growth in the tumour and after a few years it was just expected that I was cancer free.
“Once the tumour was gone, I had to learn my independence without being able to walk. I walked into the hospital but never walked out again.
“The most significant thing that has happened since is that I developed scoliosis because I had the rods put in my spine at such a young age and my whole body has grown since, so it made my spine bend.
“In 2012 I had the rods extended down into the bottom of my spine, then in 2016 I had to have them extended further to go into my pelvis.
“I got really bad spasms, which I still have now sometimes and I still to this day get back pain every so often. It can be quite painful and uncomfortable because it feels like a shooting pain all the way up my spine and into my neck.
“Before I got my scoliosis corrected it caused me more pain even though I can only feel the top half of my back. It also made my hips wonky and so I found it uncomfortable to sit and balance sometimes.
“The surgery has definitely worked a treat in terms of straightening out my spine and pelvis and allowing for my organs to not be crushed any more. But it has made me less flexible, so I have to be more careful about things I do.”
Despite facing such life-changing experiences at such a young age, Nicole has maintained determined to achieve every goal she set herself.
Nicole started her Instagram and YouTube pages to speak openly about what she’s been through and to vocalise her opinions because she wants to change the misconception that disabled people aren’t strong enough to speak up.
“I was so young at the time, so I don’t remember being told I’d never walk again, but as I got older I began to understand the impact my injury would have on my life. It made me doubt what I could achieve,” said Nicole.
“However, I always try to maintain a positive outlook because otherwise I’d never get anywhere. If you spend all your time worrying about whether you will succeed, then you never will.
“The motto I live by is to just get out there and live your dreams. Most of the children I met in hospital back then, who went through similar things to me, didn’t make it. So, I feel so grateful to even be alive.
“There’s always people in public who will stare, but I just tell myself that they’re curious. If people continue to stare then I will say to them ‘do you want a photo?’, and if they carry on even longer, I say, ‘I’ll even sign it for you if you want’.
“I just try to laugh these things off because there’s no point getting offended by minute comments or looks.
“I feel like people think that we can’t stand up for ourselves or have a voice, and that’s why I try to use my social media platforms to change that view and speak out about things I’m passionate about.
“I want to show other people with disabilities that it doesn’t hold you back. If you want to achieve something, it might take longer to get there, or you may need to find an alternative method, but you can do it.
“I hope that I’m living proof that you can succeed and remain positive despite anything that life throws at you.”