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May 26, 2022

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Breast cancer survivor learns her purpose

In cancer diagnosis, Adrienne San Nicolas finds chance for joy

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Adrienne San Nicolas pauses at her Vancouver home to examine a butterfly-wing headband that belonged to friend Tammy Townsend, who died of breast cancer in February 2016, while sorting through items she collected during chemotherapy.
Adrienne San Nicolas pauses at her Vancouver home to examine a butterfly-wing headband that belonged to friend Tammy Townsend, who died of breast cancer in February 2016, while sorting through items she collected during chemotherapy. Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

• The story: Adrienne San Nicolas was featured in the 2016 Confronting Breast Cancer section.

• Then: In the moment she learned she had breast cancer in the spring of 2015, San Nicolas said she knew her diagnosis was her purpose. Through her experience, she said, she saw an opportunity to find and spread joy. Leading by example, San Nicolas remained positive throughout the seven surgeries, 22 weeks of chemotherapy — turning the chemo suite into a party — and 20 rounds of radiation.

• Now: It’s a tongue-in-cheek joke among San Nicolas and some of her friends that breast cancer is the gift that keeps on giving.

Three years out from her mastectomy, she is still learning about cancer’s effects. While her scans remain clean, the scar tissue continues to tighten. Surgery has changed the way her body moves and reacts to stress.

“You’re never ever going to be the same,” she said. “At the same time, there is a good side to it. I truly believe that if you allow yourself to see the good in it, it creates a better experience and I believe a better outcome as well.”

Breast Cancer Awareness

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer, including thousands of women in Washington. In honor of their fight — and as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — The Columbian published this collection of stories about the women who have received breast cancer diagnoses, the science and technological advances for treating them and the community that supports them.

Read more

San Nicolas, 38, had wanted to volunteer when she was done with her journey battling cancer, but unresolved feelings kept her from doing so. Her sister-in-law Naomi Allen was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, bringing about an anger that made her realize that she just wasn’t in a good enough place to take on an official role of helping others. Then, earlier this year, she was asked to speak at a gala for the Pink Lemonade Project, an organization that aims to empower, educate and support those affected by breast cancer.

When she was finished with the experience, San Nicolas finally felt ready to volunteer. Now, she is undergoing training to be a mentor through the Pink Lemonade Project, a role that will have her answering questions and counseling someone going through the emotional and physical battle with the disease.

“Sometimes you just want to hear from somebody else that you’re going to get through it,” she said. “I think if we just have that positive attitude, it’ll help others around us from falling into the depths of it — because it can be deep.”

Beyond mentoring, San Nicolas also volunteers to put on Pink Lemonade’s Girlfriend’s Run For a Cure and had a role organizing Hope Village at the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure in Portland last month. Fundraising, she said, is also important as it bolsters research and creates a supportive community.

With breast cancer affecting both her family and friends, San Nicolas said the disease is hitting closer and closer to home. Still, she remains unshaken, determined to lift up those around her.

“I’ve always believed that it was God-given, I’ve always believed it was for my purpose and I still believe that’s true,” she said. “I think I was designed to help others.”

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