Nicki has a long history in the music industry. She has collaborated with artists such as Kylie Minogue, Take That, and the Spice Girls, as well as served as a judge on Popstars and Pop Idol alongside Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, and Dr. Fox. Nicki’s recently presented RHS Chelsea Flower Show and Escape to The Country.
Life is hectic and all-consuming, but in May of last year, things took a dramatic turn. Nicki experienced vision loss and slurred speech while recovering from a knee operation. “My symptoms appeared all of a sudden, over a 24-hour period.” Doctors initially thought I’d had a stroke, but scans revealed a golf-ball-sized meningioma.”
“It’s the initial shock of the diagnosis, followed by the shock of telling people, which is even more distressing.” It’s like a slap. When you have to call people – your family – and tell them; it’s just hideous.”
Nicki initially told only close family and a few friends, partly as a coping mechanism for herself and husband Dave Shackleton, affectionately known as ‘Shacky.’ “It was the most difficult week of my life when I was diagnosed.” When we got home, I said, ‘Let’s go and pack a bag in case I collapse suddenly,’ and he said, ‘You’re going to be fine.’ “But on the inside, I was thinking, ‘What if I’m not…?'” she says. “You walk around like you’ve got a firework in your back pocket – that’s how diagnosis feels.”
Things then began to move quickly, and surgery was scheduled for later that month. Shacky was Nicki’s rock throughout. She had no doubts.
“I told Shacky that we needed to do our Will, and he said, ‘Okay,’ and I said, ‘No – right now!’ That was a significant event. “That was difficult,” Nicki admits. “We signed the new Will the day before I went into the hospital, and that was absolutely vile – sitting across the table with the most lovely person and wiping away a tear, literally as I’m signing and it goes ‘plop’ on the pages in front of me, and him keeping it together.”
“He’s been fantastic. He’s a lot stronger than I expected. It’s more difficult for those close to you in some ways. I could only think about myself and how I was going to get through this, but it was equally difficult for others. They’re trying to do the right thing and say the right thing, and they want to be your emotional support, but what’s going on for them? They are not permitted to say things like, ‘I’m not sure if you’ll make it through this tomorrow,’ or ‘What am I going to do if it goes wrong?’ They can’t say that to me – they have to be strong and positive. If it had been the other way around and it had been Shacky, I would have been in shambles.”
The reality of what Nicki was about to face became clear as the surgery date approached. “The last few days before my surgery were extremely dark. I just wanted to get the damn thing over with. “I was literally on my hands and knees, and Shacky was picking me up.”
Nicki’s surgery was a success, and after a brief hospital stay, the recovery process began. Nicki began to take tentative, but regular, walks outside in the spring air to help her get back on track, but there were other, more unexpected, effects.
“When I first saw one of my friends, her nose would grow in and out and move around in a really comical, cartoon-like way.” ‘This isn’t right – this is very strange,’ I thought. I was obviously still feeling the side effects of the medication I was taking. “I didn’t tell my friend at the time!” she says.
“I’d also be in the hospital, and I’d look out the window and see this black shape jumping around the parking lot.” Then I realized one of my get-well cards had a rabbit on it, so I think I took it from there. I hadn’t anticipated these effects. Luckily, they didn’t last long.”
Nicki now wants to share her story and show people that if they reach out, people will reach back to help them. “Everyone’s story is unique. A common topic of discussion with people is whether this type of diagnosis and treatment has changed them – the main concern is how it affects people’s personalities and mental health.
“I was terrified when I learned of my own diagnosis and the risks of surgery.” It’s critical for people to understand that, despite putting on a brave face, I was working my way through it in my own unique way. But I have had and continue to have dark days. A dear friend of mine, who was going through a similar life-changing experience, referred to it as a ‘dark gift.’ It’s not the gift you want, but it’s the gift you have. You have to look at it that way…” Nicki pauses, and it’s clear that the rollercoaster ride that has been in 2019 continues for her. She is still processing her recovery journey.
“I’m definitely more vulnerable now, but I have to balance that with whatever else is going on.” Is it a combination of menopause and my recovery? We now live in a world where we understand more about menopause and how it affects us. “Thankfully, it’s becoming more recognized and discussed,” she says. “I can cry at anything.” Is that the menopause, or what I’ve been through? “Who knows?”
Nicki became aware of how much her diagnosis affected her daily life, work, family, and those around her. “From a professional standpoint, I didn’t expect everyone to be so nice and supportive. I expected people to be shocked, as I was, but I expected them to have a more ‘come back and see us when you’re ready’ attitude once I explained. Fortunately for me, they’ve been the opposite. When you go through something like this, people are far more supportive than you realize. You should find solace in their genuine concern and friendship.”
Since May, Nicki’s life has been a series of big and small changes. The surgery, treatment, and subsequent recovery have had a far greater impact than she could have imagined. “It’s made me a lot more grateful and hopefully a lot more patient with what’s going on in my world.” When you walk down the street and run into people, you often think to yourself, ‘You have no idea what I’m going through.’ I now look at other people and think, ‘I don’t know what you’re going through.’ They could be walking down the street looking great while carrying the heaviest burden on their shoulders.”
As the year 2020 begins, Nicki’s upbeat and enthusiastic personality is stronger than ever. She still has a hectic work schedule, but she is determined to reach out to others affected and thank those who helped her get through last year, from healthcare workers to family and friends to the thousands of public messages of support.
“When I look back, 2019 isn’t a year I’d want to repeat, but that’s life; there’s nothing I could have done about it.” I’ve been astounded by people’s reactions, both close to me and strangers on the street who want to say hello and maybe share a personal story without ever invading my space. “People have been so generous and wanted to share their genuine warmth with me,” she says.
“It’s important for me to work with The Brain Tumour Charity and share my experience to let others know they’re not alone in this.”
Nicki’s most recent scan was negative, and she is continuing to support our 2020 campaigns, including Brain Tumor Awareness Month in March, as well as BRIAN, the groundbreaking free online app we’ve developed to help people cope with a brain tumor.