Niki Zikmund thought she had done all the right things. She got plenty of exercise,
breast fed her children, did not smoke and was not a heavy drinker. She was careful
with her diet. In fact, she was a leader in the local Weight Watchers organization.
But she got breast cancer anyway.
She remembers the exact day that she heard the news – as do all breast cancer
patients – Dec. 16, 2011.
Niki Zikmund was 40 years old.
“On Dec. 1 I had been working out at the ‘Y’,” she said. “I came home, took a shower
and was standing in front of the mirror. As I raised my arm to put on deodorant I
saw a slight indentation on my left breast.“
Niki went to her physician and had an ultrasound and biopsy. “At that point I knew.
I just knew it was breast cancer.”
Niki was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, stage 2B. “This is a very slow-
moving cancer,” explained Niki. “The tumor was probably there for about seven
years and I had seven mammograms before it was found. I’d even had a pain in that
area two years ago and had that checked out but nothing was found. But I have very
dense, fibrous breasts so I do not blame the doctors.”
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma means that the cancer began in the milk ducts,
something that did not surprise Niki. She recalls that when she was nursing her son
Landon, who is now seven years old, the milk from that breast was slower and less
Niki is tremendously grateful for the support of her friends and her family, son,
Alex, 19, a student at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Cody, 18, who is in AIT
in the Army and currently stationed in Missouri, Brinna, 10, and Landon. And of
course Joe, her husband of 20 years.
“Joe has been my rock. He has such a great sense of humor and keeps me laughing.”
In fact, having a positive attitude is key to recovery from breast cancer. And Niki
certainly has that. “A lot of positive things have come from this,” she said. “Things
that used to stress me out don’t even phase me anymore. Cancer has not changed
my life but is a part of my life. I will not let it rule my life.”
“The word ‘cancer’ scared my kids,” said Niki. “They asked me if I was going to
die. I told them that I have a better chance of dying in a car accident than from this
In fact, Niki found many positive things about her experience. “For five months I
didn’t have to shave my legs.” Also, because her hair had fallen out and she wore a
wig, it literally took her seven minutes to get ready to go out, including shower and
But perhaps most importantly, “I learned a lot about myself and my family and
friends. They have been my prayer warriors. I was on prayer chains. People I did not
even know were praying for me.”
It must have worked because Niki was declared cancer free on June 13 – her ‘cure
Niki had a double mastectomy on Jan. 18 with an internal node biopsy. A
micrometastases was removed and 33 of her lymph nodes. Tissue expanders were
inserted to prepare the breast for future reconstructive surgery. Over time, the
expanders are slowly inflated, stretching the skin and muscles and are removed
prior to reconstructive surgery.
“I get to pick out new breasts!” declared Niki. “And they will be perky!”
A week before Christmas the nipples will be added and in January the areolas will be
tattooed on. “They will look absolutely real,” said Niki.
People tolerate chemotherapy very differently. For Niki, it was not a huge problem.
“I had one treatment every three weeks. I’d have 36 hours of not feeling well and
then I’d be fine until the next treatment. I continued to go to the ‘Y’ to work out.”
So what does the future hold for this powerhouse of positivity? “Right now I’m the
publicity coordinator for Relay For Life. A year from now, if I’m still healthy and
happy, I will find a new calling. I’m thinking about setting up an exercise group for
Niki has some advice:
For cancer patients – “Absolutely contact the American Cancer Society. They have
so many resources and their help is not based on financial need.”
And for friends and family – “Each patient is different. Some people want to talk
about it. Sometimes friends will want to call but are afraid of bothering you or
waking you up if you are resting, which I why I did a Caring Bridge site. Offer
support, even if they say ‘no.’ Still do something. Some people don’t want to accept
help. That was my biggest struggle, to ask for help and to accept help.”
And her last bit of advice – “Life has to go on.”