Sarcoma Story: Nick Shifflet

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Type of Sarcoma: PNET Ewing’s Sarcoma
Date of Diagnosis: 2008
Location: neck

Never in a million years would I think I would be writing a tribute to my lifelong “brother,” through friendship, Nick Shifflet (July 30, 1979 – Dec. 10, 2008). This young man has always been physically active and since birth has shown his resilience and zest for life. As an infant, Nick battled illness that nearly took his life, but he fought and won. As a child and young adult, he thrived and was a picture of health. Nick had a passion for sports and from a young age became involved in and showed great talent in many extracurricular activities including soccer, track, football, skiing, and snowboarding. He lived a simple life and believed his wealth was found in how he lived his life and by the company he kept, not by the amount of money in his pockets. Nick was not just a friend, he was a best friend to many.

Feb. 1, 2008 was a pivotal day in Nick’s life. Several months earlier Nick had been at work building a retaining wall in the majestic mountains of Summit County, Colorado, when he heard a loud pop in his neck. After months of chiropractic visits that provided no long-term relief, with the pain levels increasing and the mobility in his left arm and hand decreasing, he was provided a referral to an orthopedic specialist. The specialist diagnosed him with two bulged disks, and within a week ordered emergency surgery to repair C5-6. Less than two weeks after the surgery, it was clear to his family that something wasn’t right – he had fallen several times, had lost his mobility in both arms, and was no longer able to walk. They rushed him into the hospital only to learn that Nick had a foot-long tumor running from C3-T3, which was removed and later identified as PNET Ewing’s Sarcoma.

Nick’s treatment plan was aggressive (as we would learn was the cancer) and included surgery, several rounds of radiation, multiple “types” of chemo, along with physical rehabilitation for his neck surgery. Throughout his battle he maintained poised and determined, always with a smile on his face. Putting life on hold was not an option for him, so in November he proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Erika, who promptly accepted. Nick knew the statistical outlook was grim, yet he had every intention of beating this Sarcoma, recovering from his neck surgery, and continuing to live his life to the fullest. He faced this battle head on with a true sense of bravery and selflessness, always concerned about others. His mother was living out of state and was driving several hundred miles to be with him each time he would begin a round of treatment. Concerned about the amount of time she was spending on the road, he would urge her to stay home and insist that he would be fine without her – though she didn’t listen.

Nick was a gifted, free-spirited, hard working young man with an incredible sense of humor who cherished time with his family and friends more than anything. You see, Nick’s friends were his family and his family members were his friends – he saw no distinction. In late November and early December, Nick had the opportunity to spend quality time with his family and friends. The gatherings were “just what the doctor ordered” – filled with laughter and good times – and created some good, new memories for all. Nick was in good spirits and appeared to be doing well; little did anyone know that his condition would deteriorate so quickly from that point forward.

On Dec. 10, 2008, at the age of 29, surrounded by family, Nick’s battle came to an end. In the end, we all agree with Nick that the true value of a man is not the possessions he leaves behind, but the richness of memories he gave to others.

For further information: Nick’s CaringBridge Site.

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