They say if you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Betty Nichols figured that out for herself a long time ago. For the Chicago native doing what she loved meant being in the kitchen.
“I love to cook. Cooking is my everything,” says the 53-year-old. “I can cook and find peace. My kitchen, I just love being in my kitchen. I love it. I think if I had a bed I could just pull it out and sleep in my kitchen.”
In the 1980s, the mother of two turned her passion into a business when she started catering on the side while she worked as a toll collector. "
“I did catering on my own, and I did it for 10 years. There was never a spot that was available on my books. You had to book me early because I was always busy.”
But Betty’s dream came to a slow, grinding halt when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the young age of 35.
In 1990 her doctor gave her devastating news. She remembers what he said to her, “You’re at a level you find in a woman 70-some years old. And you’re 35. Wow, you don’t have a long span of life here.”
Betty lived with constant pain. “I could not get out of bed. I could not walk. I could not dress myself. I had no muscle power at all. Someone had to help pull my clothes over my head or help me go to the bathroom.”
In addition to medications, her doctor strongly recommended she move away from the only city she’d ever known to a drier climate. “Unless you move to Arizona,” he told her, “I don’t know how you’re going to make it.”
After that heartbreaking news it still took her five years to make the move to Phoenix. For Betty, leaving Chicago meant leaving behind friends and family and her catering business. “Even when I left for Arizona because of my illness I had just catered a 350-person wedding, and people there were begging me to please come back and do their daughter’s wedding, come back and do another event. But I knew that was the end.”
The move in 1996 – along with her medications – had a positive impact on Betty’s health. “It helped tremendously. It helped. The weather was great, but I was miserable because I had no family there so I wanted to come home.”
Then, two years after moving to Arizona, Betty got more devastating news from her doctor. She was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, the body’s disease-fighting system.
“I started fighting for my life. Six months later I got well and up again,” she says. But within a year she had a relapse. “I fought again for my life. So all of ’98, all of ’99 I was trying to stay here, and then in 2000 I started feeling a lot better and I started getting my health and strength back. And then I started wondering, ‘Man, I need to go back, I want to go back to Chicago.’”
It would take her another five years before she’d make the move back home to Chicago. “It’s wonderful. I love Chicago. I always have loved Chicago.”
For years she had been on a medication that made her depressed and tired all the time. Back in Chicago, her doctor wanted to change her prescription, but because she was on disability, the co-pay would be more than she could afford.
“My doctor told me about Patient Access Network. He said, ‘I know that you will feel better… I’m going to see if we can get you assistance.’”
Today, Betty has greater mobility and “get-up-and-go” energy again. I feel like I can conquer the world.” In short, she says, “I feel like a normal person again.”
“I love Patient Access Network. I so rely on them,” Betty says. “I’m just glad that there is Patient Access Network out there, honestly. I’m so glad that my doctor was able to recommend me to them because I don’t know what I would have done.”
Thanks to her treatment and assistance from Patient Access Network, Betty is back in the kitchen and cooking again.