Eve Marie Nicole wants you to know she is a regular 14-year-old.
The Grade 9 student at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR) was selected as the Spartan of the Month for October, for a video initiative she put together in support of the Terry Fox Foundation. To many within the school, she is a unique role model and advocate, who shares the same drive that inspired Terry Fox.
Cancer is something Nicole knows all too well, having been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour behind her optic nerves when she was just three years old. As a result, she has lost most
of her eyesight.
“I have had this idea for a project since I was in Grade 4,” she says, of her desire to raise awareness among her classmates of her experience with cancer. Last year, she began working with a CVR physical education teacher, Fraser McClintock, with the goal of sharing what it is like to live with cancer. “From day one, she wanted me to know she has these difficulties,” says McClintock, who would try to find ways to ensure she was involved in his classes. Together, they came up with an activity to help her classmates better understand how her vision affects daily life. They taped over ball hockey goggles, so the left eye was completely blind, while leaving a small opening for the right eye. The students then played a game of soccer baseball while wearing the goggles. “We talked about doing something for the wider community,” says McClintock, who filmed Nicole talking in detail about her nearly 11-year battle with cancer and the many treatments she has undergone.
“We isolated out what she wanted to talk about,” explains McClintock; this included talking about an experimental proton therapy she received, which is a targeted form of radiation, and the importance of supporting research into cancer. “We tagged this on to the Terry Fox activities,” explains McClintock, of the annual run at CVR.
The video was a hit as soon as it was released, so much so that Nicole was invited to speak to Grade 7 and 8 classes about her life. Students began to reach out to her, many with emotional stories of their own about the different ways cancer had impacted their lives. “I definitely admire her determination,” as well as her sense of humour and maturity, McClintock says. “She is unique,” he added, noting not many at that age are so unabashed about who they are. “I appreciated the opportunity to spotlight someone who is very comfortable in their skin,” he says, suggesting her message of respect, equality, and being open about who you are really resonated with students.
Teacher Pamela Bussey says Nicole will often observe things in a way that others are not necessarily able to grasp right away. “There is a maturity and wisdom that is beyond her years,” Bussey says, noting that while she advocates for herself, she is also very empathetic.
“I might be blind one day, so I try to look at life, and life around me,” says Nicole, who admits she sometimes enjoys being in the spotlight. “People listen,” she says simply. “I want people to learn that we are all different,” she explains, noting that in many ways she feels lucky that her disability is not obvious. “People treat others differently when they can see it,” she continues, noting the difference in behaviour exhibited by those around her when she uses her white cane.
Nicole says that since her video was posted, she has noticed a difference at CVR. Students have started checking their behaviour when it comes to managing differences. “I have seen a lot of people change, not only with me, but with others as well,” she says.
Students are also much more open to talking about difficult subjects with her. “When people see me, they have a lot of questions,” she laughs, while acknowledging she is happy her peers are more comfortable approaching the subject of her cancer. “I think it made people realize a lot of things,” she says of her video.
“Cancer does not take breaks. It is always there,” she says, though her condition is now stable. She just wants to bring her inspiring experience to light. And, as she says, the fact she does not see very well doesn’t mean she can’t have a vision.
Eve Marie Nicole is an advocate for acceptance and equality. She is also a cancer survivor fighting to raise awareness about cancer and the importance of supporting research into the disease. PHOTO Sarah Rennie