Billi Nicol's story
Brain Tumor Advocacy
Billi Nicol's gift for advocacy could have turned in any number of directions, considering the many trials in her life. Her mother had ovarian cancer, her father diabetes. Her grandfather died of heart disease.
Most trenchant, Billi was a teen mother. She gave birth to a daughter at 15, transitioning from honor student to single mother overnight. She received this news while immersed in a summer camp at Wright State University for college-bound students.
Determined to soldier on, she graduated at the top of her high school class and went on to attend Wright State on a full scholarship she earned through the university's STEPP program. As a non-traditional student, she raised her daughter on campus while earning her degree. Years later, her "teen baby" would graduate from a prestigious East Coast college.
As a young woman, Billi declined to be an advocate for teen mothers, feeling that she wasn't an expert. Nor did she want to wear the banner of teen pregnancy. "But the budding advocate within me always believed in supporting loved ones, other people and worthy causes," she says. She gave donations for diabetes education and and jumped rope for healthier hearts.
It wasn't until she was recovering from an atypical meningioma brain tumor in 2014 that something literally lit up in Billi's brain and heart. Reviewing information she received after her surgery, performed by Mayfield's Mario Zuccarello, MD, she found a brochure about the Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure, held each October at Sawyer Point for the benefit of the UC Brain Tumor Center.
"The crazy thing is, when I went to the website after I read the brochure, I was instantly on fire," Billi says. "I said, 'Yes, OK. There's something for us. I'm not alone!' I can only explain it as a spiritual thing. He makes it clear what He wants you to do. When I learned of the walk, I knew without question this was the banner He wanted me to carry."
Billi was also struck by the lack of people of color pictured in the event brochure. When she was treated at Precision Radiotherapy Center, she says, "I saw black people, Asian people, a woman bringing her daughter who was learning to walk again. I felt strongly that my voice needed to be heard, that I needed to represent people who were not being represented."
Billi also felt that members of the African American community could be hesitant about seeing a doctor, sometimes waiting too long. She wanted to spread the message that getting in early, at the earliest signs of symptoms, could be lifesaving.
"Our bodies talk to us and let us know something's wrong," she says. "As adults, we get so caught up and busy with life. If we're not in excruciating pain, we say, 'I'll try to get in next week; I don't feel like taking off work.' We make normal excuses or we self-diagnosis, assume that it's stress. We talk to our friends, none of whom are doctors, and our hairdresser, who will also tell you, 'it's stress,' and go no further."
Billi was not able to participate in the 2014 brain tumor walk, because she was still recovering. But she made a vow. "I said, 'Lord, if you heal me, restore me, I am not only going to participate, I am going to lead this walk. Because people need to know that brain tumors happen to African Americans, too."
And how she has led. Billi shared her story in detail for the Precision Radiotherapy website, appeared on a billboard, formed the "Billi's Believers" Walk Ahead team, and launched an inspirational Facebook page, Billi's Believers – From Tumor to Triumph!"
An accomplished soul singer who regained her ability to sing following surgery, Billi held concert fundraisers for brain tumor research and sang the national anthem at the 2015 and 2016 walks. She will be a featured performer, with the band Vibe5, at The Art & Science of Healing on March 11. The event benefits the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation.
As a result of her advocacy for people with brain tumors – for people of all colors – Billi was recently named one of 25 Women to Watch in the Miami Valley by Women in Business Networking (WiBN), a program of the Better Business Bureau of Dayton, Ohio. The event, presented by Morgan Stanley, takes place March 18 at the Presidential Banquet Center in Kettering.
Billi, who is today a wife and mother of two school-age children (in addition to her college graduate), shows no signs of reducing her advocacy.
Because her hair has not grown back completely on the right side of her head, she wears it in a way that showcases a scar that was closed with 22 staples. When people inquire about her bold cut, she replies, "I didn't choose this hairstyle. It chose me."
Perhaps brain tumor advocacy chose her as well. "Not everyone is in a position to do what I'm doing," Billi says. "I am a part of this family of survivors. God helped me move physically through it and do something about it rather than sit and dwell on it. I realized if I could take control of it, it wouldn't take control of me."
~ Cindy Starr
Hope Story Disclaimer -"Billi Nicol's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.