Nicole Foster, a junior majoring in psychology with minors in social work and criminal justice, spent her 15th Thanksgiving like most teenagers: surrounded by her loving family. But unlike most teenagers, Nicole spent her fifteenth Thanksgiving in the hospital, after having recently been diagnosed with leukemia the summer before her sophomore year of high school.
Nicole, who has now been cancer free for nearly three years recalls, “When it happened, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ Because all I ever wanted was to be normal and I thought, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen now.’” And yet, “normal” was never something that was an option for Nicole growing up.
At five years old, Nicole was leaving her house for her swimming lesson as the TV blared in the background. It was September 11, 2001. Nicole’s father, Noel J. Foster, was a vice president with Aon Corporation on the ninety-ninth floor of second World Trade Center. On the day the terrorist attacks occurred, he did not return home from work, along with thousands of other Americans.
“Most people link cancer to death, and even though mine was very treatable, it made me realize that I really should be grateful for everything in my life and be grateful for every day, and there’s no sense in being negative about something that’s not worth your time.”
Almost immediately, the tragic event began to shape who Nicole would become, and what she wanted to do with her life. “When that happened, my mom and I were offered so many generous things. My mom had always told me if anyone ever needs help, people have helped us so much. It has helped me to put my life into perspective and want to help as many people as I can and to think positively even though I could be so mad about the events that happened 15 years ago. I understand that I can’t change it now, you can only move forward and be positive.” Not only did Nicole’s mom lose her husband in 9/11, but she also takes care of Nicole’s older sister, Megan, who is on the Autism spectrum. It is her mother’s own resilience that has helped to foster Nicole’s positive outlook on life.
Having also survived cancer gives Nicole a different perspective on life than many of her peers, she notes. “Most people link cancer to death, and even though mine was very treatable, it made me realize that I really should be grateful for everything in my life and be grateful for every day, and there’s no sense in being negative about something that’s not worth your time.”
While most students stress out about exams, Nicole is able to keep a calm demeanor, knowing that she has been through worse experiences and that there are far more important things in life.
Although Nicole emanates positivity and appreciation for life, this is not to say that she did not have her fair share of fear as a child. “I’ve had anxiety since I was very young and I think it has to do with my dad dying at such a young age. I felt a lot of fear in my childhood for death, and for a lot of things. I was afraid to ride the school bus because I was just scared for a long time. Once I was treated for my anxiety, I realized that it’s okay to be anxious and it’s okay to have anxiety, and it’s definitely normal for mental illnesses to happen like that.”
Having overcome her anxiety, Nicole is passionate about normalizing mental illness in both her personal life and her college career. Being a psychology major, she is focused on changing the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and plans to start changing it right here at Marist.
Nicole professes the mindset that positivity will always win, something that she has witnessed not just in her own life, but in the lives of others, especially during the time she spends volunteering with the Valerie fund. Each January for the past five years, Nicole has fundraised for the Valerie Fund’s 5k walk/run, a foundation that supports children with cancer and blood disorders. Nicole herself was treated at The Valerie Center, in Morristown, New Jersey
Nicole has been a vital part of the work that goes into the Valerie Fund by raising $25,000 over the past few years for Team Nicole, which she is the captain of. She typically raises the money through family, Facebook and additional fundraising events. Such events include eating out at restaurants that donate proceeds to her team, and, most recently, hosting a “Paint and Sip” event at her house, which featured a night of painting and drinking wine. Every June, Nicole gathers her team of family and friends at 7:00 a.m. to show her support for the foundation that saved her life. This past year, Nicole and her team raised over $10,000, a feat that won the attention of the Valerie fund founders, who honored her with the “Small but Mighty” award.
Nicole has taken on a new project at Marist by combining helping others with another area she adores: photography. Nicole is the president of Fox Photography club on campus, which brings people from any skill level with any type of camera together.
In spring 2016, they hosted a pop-up photo gallery for club members to display their work. The event was formal and everyone dressed up. “It made everyone feel appreciated,” Nicole says. The proceeds from the event went to the Maya Gold foundation, founded by the parents of a New Paltz high school girl, who committed suicide a year ago. Her parents created the foundation to give students a creative outlet in which to express themselves. Nicole hopes to create a similar outlet for the members of Fox Photography.