By Alyce Collins


THIS WOMAN worked out FIVE TIMES A WEEK and loved pushing her body to its limits, so when she visited her GP complaining of dizziness the last thing she was expecting to be told is that she had a BRAIN TUMOUR – that required surgery whilst AWAKE.

Health and wellness coach, Nichole Bates (29) from Minnesota, USA, enjoyed working out five times a week to reach her goal of competing as an international professional bikini bodybuilder in 2018, mainly focusing on strength training.

As a certified personal trainer, Nichole enjoyed pushing her body to its limit, but in 2019 she started to experience dizzy spells up to three times a day and she found herself retching multiple times a day also, but there was never any vomit, she could only spit up saliva.

Nichole with her partner, Davis. MDWFeatures / Nichole Bates

Nichole didn’t think too much of these signs, but as they continued, she was also needing to take naps every day as she was becoming increasingly fatigued and by July 9, she decided she needed to go the hospital to get checked over.

A doctor sent Nichole for an MRI and straight away a mass was found in her brain which was believed to be a cancerous tumour. Following the shock discovery, Nichole was referred to an oncology team where a biopsy could be carried out and it was later determined that the tumour was an astrocytoma cancer which had mutated.

A team of neurologists decided that Nichole needed brain surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible because it was located in the front left side of her head, and it was impacting her front and temporal lobes. Surgery was on August 23, and Nichole had to be awake during the operation to enable surgeons to remove 85 per cent of the tumour, more than they would have been able to remove had she been under general anaesthetic.

Nichole is a personal trainer and was a pro bikini bodybuilder, so her tumour was a devastating shock. MDWFeatures / Nichole Bates

For someone who always took pride in her health and fitness, a cancer diagnosis and the ensuing battle showed Nichole that her strength is more than just physical as she can overcome such health obstacles.

“Fitness is incredibly important to me. I am a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and was certified as a National IPE Pro for Bikini Body Building in 2018,” said Nichole.

“I worked out about five days a week before the cancer was discovered and I liked to focus mostly on strength training.

“However, I was experiencing spit up episodes and felt very dizzy one to three times during the day at work or after work. I had to spit up in a cup or in the toilet and it was just saliva, there was no vomit. The more it happened the more fatigued I would get and needed to take naps to recover.

Nichole in hospital recovering from her surgery. MDWFeatures / Nichole Bates

“I didn’t know it was related to my brain immediately but I went to the hospital on July 9 2019 and the doctor working with me had me complete an MRI right away and discovered a mass in my brain that she believed was a tumour and was most likely cancerous.

“Then she sent me to a hospital in Minneapolis to work with the oncology team to complete a biopsy and determine the astrocytoma cancer. The astrocytoma is mutated and it responds well to treatment with radiation and chemotherapy but is constantly developing.

“After working with the neurologist who completed my biopsy, he referred me to his mentor surgeon at the Mayo Clinic for an awake brain surgery on August 23, 2019. The surgery took 10 hours to complete.

“My emotions were very high because experiencing an awake surgery is overwhelming. I don’t remember much of the surgery but I followed directions to help the surgeon.

Nichole back in 2018 when she competed. MDWFeatures / Nichole Bates

“After completing the surgery for the biopsy, I felt more confident in the upcoming surgery’s ability to heal from this brain cancer. I also trusted in God and his ability to make science work for us in millions of ways. The fact that the surgery was completed with me awake was incredible because it allowed my surgeon to know where to operate and how it would impact my brain the most.

“My tumour was located in the front left side of my head also impacting frontal, temporal lobe, and basal ganglia part of my brain and that impacted things like my eyes, my speech and other really important functions.

“They wanted to make sure they didn’t damage any of my motor speech areas or any large blood vessels. So, they left the parts of the tumour that were close to those areas so they wouldn’t damage anything in an attempt to remove the tumour.”

Nichole is a personal trainer and was a pro bikini bodybuilder, so her tumour was a devastating shock. MDWFeatures / Nichole Bates

Nichole’s recovery from surgery was testing and she suffered a full-body seizure as her body struggled to cope with the increased stress. After a week in hospital, Nichole started six weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy to diminish the remaining tumour.

Nichole also said that part of the reason she got involved with wellness coaching was because she enjoyed helping others progress, but after defeating a cancer diagnosis she now understands that even the healthiest people can face battles beyond their control.

“I completed six and a half weeks of combined radiation and oral chemotherapy. It started on September 16 and ended on October 30,” she said.

“An astrocytoma can grow back and require additional treatments in the future. However, the surgeon who discovered my astrocytoma told me that because of my age, health, and how medicine is continuing to evolve, a solution will be created to remove it and heal me fully.

Nichole had to be awake for her 10 hour brain surgery because it allowed doctors to have a better idea of any damage that could be caused. MDWFeatures / Nichole Bates

“I am stronger and braver than I ever knew. I never expected to fight this big battle. As a health coach, it’s so important to me to teach people nutrition and exercise-related concepts, as well as teaching self-care and how to manage stress, but I’ve now experienced this new level of myself.

“It’s shown me that you don’t know a person’s journey before you learn – never judge. Someone who lifted 100 pounds might only be able to lift two pounds right now but things will come with time and effort.

“Today, I am still into fitness and working with my body as much as I can. I work out three times a week at a level my body can handle. However, I won’t give up on my goals and I’m slowly increasing weights.

“I got into wellness because I wanted to help others change unhealthy habits and develop issues due to poor health choices. I have always taken great care of myself but after being diagnosed with cancer, it’s shocking how hard workers still face things we can’t control.”


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