POCATELLO — In the words of Nicole Arzola, a local Albertsons cashier and a commercial processor for Idaho Central Credit Union, “It doesn’t cost anything to be kind.”
But after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, on Oct. 22, Arzola’s “pay-it-forward” mentality has recently come full circle. To help offset medical costs and a loss of income associated with Arzola’s chemotherapy treatment, four of Arzola’s closest friends and loved ones have organized several local fundraisers.
“Even through this leukemia diagnosis, Nicole has remained one of the most positive and happiest people I’ve ever met,” said Christa Anderson, a long time friend of Arzola’s. “She’s thankful for everything in her life and she keeps saying that everything happens for a reason. She told me that God gave her this because he knows she is strong enough to deal with it.”
AML is a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow and most often quickly moves into the blood, but can sometimes spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen and central nervous system, according to the National Institutes of Health.
While AML is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults, it’s still fairly rare overall, accounting for only about 1 percent of all cancers, says the American Cancer Society.
In the five weeks since her diagnosis, Arzola has received numerous blood and platelet transfusions, totaling about 19 units of blood and 18 units of platelets, she said in a Nov. 24 Facebook post.
Anderson says Arzola has just finished her second round of chemotherapy at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello. While Arzola has an upcoming appointment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Anderson says the current prognosis for her friend of 15 years is that she’ll likely need several bone marrow transplants to completely kick the rare bone cancer.
“Bone marrow transplants will likely be needed to completely rid her of the leukemia,” Anderson said. “We are focusing these fundraisers on helping her out with medical expenses that are going to be, as we all know, probably outrageous.”
From 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, the local Noodles & Company at 4013 Yellowstone Ave. will donate 50 percent of all of its proceeds to Arzola. ChubbyZ’ at 302 E. Center St. in Pocatello recently finished a two-week fundraiser for Arzola that involved donating $2 for every Colie sandwich the eatery sold. Anderson said the ChubbyZ’ Colie sandwich fundraiser has wrapped up, but the restaurant still has a donation jar in Arzola’s name on its front counter.
ICCU has also established a donation account for individuals who want to contribute to Arzola’s cause more directly. Those interested in donating can reference account number 726296239 at any ICCU branch. Arzola serves as a commercial processor at the ICCU administration building in Chubbuck.
Anderson said the only other fundraiser currently in the works is a raffle and silent auction set to take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Rumors Pub, 2227 Garrett Way in Pocatello.
“We have some really awesome prizes for the raffle and silent auction including some amazing guns and a gun safe, jewelry from Molinelli’s Jewelers in downtown Pocatello and a 50-inch TV,” Anderson said. “Nicole’s boyfriend, Walter Perry, has probably done about 85 percent of the leg work in getting that all together and definitely deserves some kudos.”
Lori York, a co-worker of Arzola’s at Albertsons, also said the union she is a part of has shared Arzola’s story with all 1,100 of its members in hopes that others outside of the local community can contribute.
Those interested in tracking Arzola’s progress and finding out more about the numerous fundraisers in her name can visit nicolesfight.godaddysites.com.
In addition to Anderson and Perry, Arzola’s friends Angeca Jolley and Patti Sherburne have been instrumental in setting up and coordinating the several fundraising efforts, Anderson said.
Anderson met Arzola about 15 years ago while the pair were working at Farmers Insurance in Pocatello. Anderson said Arzola took her under her wing even though she didn’t have to, and a lifelong friendship was born.
“One thing that I really remember is she recognized that I was struggling and she took it upon herself to sit down and train me even though she didn’t have to,” Anderson said. “But that’s just scratching the surface. Nicole is a single mom of two kids and has worked two jobs the entire time. She has worked herself to the bone to make sure her kids never went without and is always just this super bright ray of sunshine. She was there for me when my parents died and really helped another friend of ours who almost died from a heart condition. She works her butt off and cares so much about the people in her life.”
Recognizing the predicament she was about to find herself in, Arzola found yet another way to pay it forward. Knowing she would likely lose most of her hair during the chemotherapy treatments, Arzola said she had her daughter wash and braid her hair before cutting it off. She then donated the hair to Children With Hair Loss, an organization that, among many other contributions, helps youths secure wigs.
Despite her situation, Arzola was in high spirits, laughing and joking during her Monday interview with the Idaho State Journal. Though she has a long road ahead of her, she’s trying to take it step-by-step, one day at a time.
“This whole situation is kind of like eating a Hershey’s chocolate bar: You can’t bite off the whole bar, you just have to take it one chunk at a time,” Arzola said. “There are tons of people fighting cancer right now, and I am just one more person in that battle.”