When Nicole was not chosen for the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders squad after making it all the way to the Final Audition Show, she immediately thought of her father, Bob, and how he would handle such a disappointment.
"You really have to fight for what you want. You have to work hard, and never give up, which is something my dad has always taught me," Nicole said. "I knew I was coming back the following year."
Nicole was raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania by her parents, Bob and Karen, with three sisters. Laura and Breanne are Nicole's older sisters, and Ashley is the baby of the family. Nicole's parents taught her perseverance at an early age as they weren't fortunate enough to go to college, so they founded a highly successful public adjustment firm that has won numerous awards for its performance.
An Eagles fan since birth, Nicole has fond memories of going to games in her family's RV and tailgating outside the stadium. When Laura went to Penn State, the RV started making trips to Happy Valley, which inspired Nicole to follow in her sister's footsteps. It was during Nicole's junior year when her world was turned upside down. On September 14, 2014, Bob called Nicole that morning with some devastating news. Three days earlier, he had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
"I've always grown up thinking that will never happen to me, that will never happen to my parents," Nicole said. "It's so crazy, because I've literally lived my whole life saying that and thinking that even after hearing all of the stories of friends and family members who have had their lives affected by cancer."
Nicole didn't know whether or not she should leave school and return home to care for her father, but Bob assured her that he would be fine. The first time Nicole saw her father after the diagnosis was when the RV came up for the next Penn State tailgate. It was when Nicole saw her father outfitted with a pump to deliver medicine every 90 minutes that the reality set in that he had cancer. That initial weekend came and went just like any other.
"He was very good at hiding it. He did his best to act like he was OK and that everything was fine," Nicole said.
Bob refused to allow cancer steal his spirit and zest for life, but Nicole saw how the side effects from the chemotherapy took a toll on him.
"You could just tell. You could see it on his face," she said. "He didn't feel good. He was exhausted. His skin color was definitely different. He did not lose hair, though, which was shocking. The doctors told him that he was going to lose his hair, but he still had it."
And he still has it to this day. Bob was around to see Nicole overcome her setback and earn a spot on the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders this past April.
"I knew how badly I wanted to make the squad," Nicole said. "I just gave it my all and did the best that I could, whether I made it or not. It was an unbelievable feeling to know that I made it."
The buildup leading to Nicole's rookie season as an Eagles Cheerleader took a detour over the summer, however, when Nicole's mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A year ago, doctors discovered a lump, but Karen was told it was nothing to worry about after further evaluation. Well, her doctor recommended getting it checked again during her annual physical. Karen went to a new specialist who confirmed that it was indeed cancer. Karen was crushed, but she turned the page quickly. The surgery to remove the cancer was on August 25. Nicole was there for her in the hospital and tended to her at home the following week, seeing how cancer was not going to keep her mother down for long. Like her husband, Karen is now symptom free.
On Sunday, Nicole will represent her parents and millions of people around the world whose lives have been touched by cancer at the Eagles' Crucial Catch game against the New York Jets.
"They had such a great attitude toward battling cancer. They treated it like it was just another obstacle in life," Nicole said. "That's how they always taught us to approach everything. You just keep going and keep moving forward. They have a really strong faith in God. We're a Christian family. They just knew that they were going to win this battle and they did. They're amazing parents. My dad is my hero, and my mom is my role model. They fought through it, and both beat cancer! It was very devastating to learn of their diagnosis at first, but to be at the point where we're at now is just incredible."
Nicole looks at the chance to perform at Lincoln Financial Field as a celebration of the triumphs big and small that survivors have earned over the years. It's only fitting that one of the songs that the Eagles Cheerleaders will dance to is Destiny's Child's "I'm a Survivor." Another is "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman that features a powerful chorus and a signature line.
"We are warriors. Yeah, that's what we've become."
Nicole knew that her parents were warriors. The battle with cancer was just the latest example.
"They taught me to live life to the fullest every day," Nicole said. "I'm going to live life every day like it's my last. I try to see my parents as much as I can. I always give them hugs and tell them I love them. I always did that, but seeing their struggle made me realize how lucky I am and not to take anything for granted."