Nickie Miles Foster traded her combat boots for sparkly, rhinestone-studded high heels that wintry New Year’s Eve night back in 2007. It was no easy task. A self-proclaimed “country girl,” Foster feels more comfortable with a gun strapped to her shoulder than being strapped in a tight, body-hugging cocktail dress — but, as always, she rose to the occasion, and charmed everyone at that holiday gathering in Biloxi.
The next year, she would follow in the footsteps of her father, Terry Miles, and join the United States Army, proudly serving her country for the next 4 1/2 years, including a 15-month tour in Afghanistan. It was during this time she met, and married, soldier Fred Foster, and they soon started a family. Several years later, Nickie Foster would face a new kind of battle, not on the desert sands of a foreign country, but here at home, in the U.S., and it would come in the form of a small knot when she was just 29.
“I was undressing after work and discovered a knot on my left breast. I was sent to have a mammogram and was told it was ‘normal’ and my knot was probably a cyst,” Foster said. “My doctor and I disagreed and I had to go through rings of fire to get a biopsy. So in late June of 2015, I finally had a biopsy. The surgeon kept saying it wasn’t going to be cancer. One week later we all discovered it was.
“My first thought was my children. The medical staff were unsure of the stage and if the cancer had spread, so I tried to ensure they had the best days of their lives until I knew,” Foster said. “I tried my best to keep everyone in high spirits, mainly because I saw no point in panicking until we had more information.”
At the prodding of her husband, Foster decided to share the news with other family members, including her stepson Kourdell, and close friends, some of whom seemed to take the news harder than she did.
“My mother thought I was joking at first, then got upset,” Foster said. “My father was pretty upset. I called my friends that week. My son, Russ, was 5 years old and my daughter, Dabria, was 3, so they got the little explanation, not a full one. We told them that mommy was sick and had a stupid, dumb knot, and that I would need medication, that may make mommy sick, to fix the problem.”
The kids took a comic spin on the situation once the initial news settled in. “When I had a port put into my chest and neck area, they loved looking at it. My son called it the ‘Iron Man’ port. My hair started falling out around the second treatment,” Foster said.
Family, friends unite
The Foster family banded together on a united front during her treatments, which included rounds of chemo every two weeks for four months, followed by a Neulasta shot less than 24 hours after each treatment. “The shot was worse than the flu. It felt like every bone in my body was crumbling and I had no energy,” Foster said.
But she did her best to remain optimistic and lift the spirits of her kids and those around her, including a shaving party after her hair started falling out. “I shaved my head, and my son even shaved his head to match me,” she said.
Then, there are the colorful wigs, which fascinate her young daughter Dabria. Four of them to be exact, in a variety of shades and colors: blonde, red and black, teal, and, of course, rainbow. While the family did their best to look for bright spots, juggling the treatments as well as motherhood, and other responsibilities, thousands of miles away from home in Vicksburg, was a challenge to say the least.
“We did not have much help out in Arizona. I used to wake up to get the kids dressed and Russ off to school, then come home for an hour or so. Then, I would drop Dabria off at Fred’s work and drive 20 minutes to chemo and radiation, sit there until it was done, then drive back to pick up Dabria and Russ. Then, off to home again, to do homework and housework, and with a little luck, play time with the kids,” Nickie said.
Then there was another type of symptom that went beyond the confines of her body. “My husband (Fred) and one of my best friends got what is called ‘sympathy symptoms’ throughout my whole experience. They both got tired easily and metal mouth. My husband got nauseated, too,” Foster said.
“What lifted my spirits was having one friend on the East Coast continually checking in on me, and my other friend, who lived one house down, always spent Fridays with me. She refrained from treating me differently and always offered her assistance with anything that I needed,” Foster said.
Her extended family of fellow veterans were also on the front lines with her in Arizona. “My VFW family back in Arizona offered all kinds of assistance. Christmas of 2015 they snuck up and dropped toys and a few other things on the porch,” Foster said.
They also took her fight to the streets, walking Relay For Life in her honor, something her veteran friends continue to do today. “One guy wears a bra and walks in my honor. It is an honor to have a Vietnam veteran do that for me,” she said.
‘Just be supportive’
Foster moved back to Vicksburg in August 2016, greeted by Mississippi’s trademark Southern hospitality and a River City welcome, arms wide open by those who know her. Even though Foster knows all too well how quickly news travels in small towns, she was still surprised over the rush and outpouring of care and concern from fellow Vicksburg residents. There was, and still is, no shortage of prayer groups and churchgoers who keep her name on their prayer list, for her good health, continued strength and encouragement for the entire family as they begin to rebuild their lives and set roots back in Foster’s hometown.
Foster’s advice for family and friends wanting to lend a helping hand? “Mainly just be supportive. Another thought to keep in mind is that sometimes it may not be the person diagnosed that needs the support. The spouse and children also have a lot to process. Do offer them help, running errands, cooking, child care, these kinds of things. Do be supportive and listen to them vent. Do give them time to process. Don’t treat them differently. Do not tell them it will be OK. Do not tell them to get over it when they hit remission,” she said.
Foster has been in remission since January. “Yes, my life was put on hold, but I am trying to get back on track. I marked some items off my bucket list. My son and I rode an elephant. My husband and I were able to attend an Ole Miss game, thanks to some family friends. I have been released to return to my life and have begun running again. I plan to accomplish the Warrior Dash next year, so I have been training for that. I also plan to return to college and finish my bachelor’s degree,” she said.
Foster considers herself “a victor that bares battle scars, from a battle that was against, was like, an invisible enemy from within my body,” she said.
This warrior will take the war against breast cancer onto the runway at Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville on Saturday as one of several models for the second annual Pink Pearls To Save the Girls Fashion Show. The breast cancer awareness event is a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen foundation. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50 online at ScarletPearlCasino.com, or $65 at the door. Coast artist Marty Wilson is among those who will have art items up for bid at a silent auction. He also will be a special guest who will appear in honor of his mother, Jacqueline, who recently died from breast cancer.
Miss Mississippi 2017 Anne Elizabeth Buys also will be on hand for the event.
She wobbles in high heels
Nickie Miles Foster is a different kind of beauty queen. She isn’t walking the runway for a crown or title. In fact, she wobbles in high heels and is still getting her “runway legs” nearly 10 years after her sister forced her to trade in her combat boots for high heels for that holiday event on the Coast.
Foster is stepping out and sharing her story out of love and hope, sharing her vulnerability and experience with a desire to build up and encourage others who find themselves on a similar path in life.
Foster, 32, is already stepping into her destiny, and it goes beyond the fashion runway and platform from which she speaks. Foster inspires all who know her. Her daughter, Dabria, not yet a teenager, has decided to be a doctor to help others like her mother. Her husband, Fred, is finding even deeper meaning in the love they share and the challenges they’ve survived and overcome. Her son, Russ, volunteered at a young age to lose his own hair to build up his mother’s spirits. And countless others.
I should know. I’m her sister.
Toni Miles is a longtime print and television news journalist from Vicksburg. She is assignment editor and host of “Coastal Connections” at News 25 in Gulfport. She now resides in Biloxi.
Second annual Pink Pearls To Save the Girls Fashion Show
What: The breast cancer awareness event is a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen foundation. It also will feature a silent auction.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 21
Where: Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort’s Strand Event Center, D’Iberville
Tickets: $50 online at ScarletPearlCasino.com, or $65 at the door
Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Gulf Coast
What: An American Cancer Society walk/event to raise money for breast cancer research and support. Wear your pink.
When: 7 a.m. registration, 9 a.m. walk, Oct. 21
Where: Town Green, 710 Beach Blvd., Biloxi