Nikia Hammonds-Blakely is a singer, songwriter, and motivational speaker. She began singing at the age of 3, using her great-grandmother's walking cane as her microphone. From there, Nikia sang at churches, musicals, and programs throughout her hometown, often preceding her father when he preached. By the time she was a teenager, Nikia had formed a singing group with her sisters, recording a CD and touring the West Coast ministering in schools and the community.
At the age of 16, when she was just a sophomore in high school, she found a lump in her breast. She never fathomed it could be cancer; no one on either side of her family had ever suffered from the disease. However, during a physical a short time later, her physician suggested performing a biopsy just to be sure. Not only was it found to be cancer, it was identified as a very aggressive form of cancer. Nikia was terrified. Her doctor recommended a total mastectomy, but Nikia resisted. Instead, she underwent several months of radiation and other surgeries.
As traumatic as it was, Nikia says her experience with cancer also gave her a resolve she never had before. Until her breast cancer diagnosis, she says she was only an average student. Once she decided she would beat her cancer and make the most of her life, she earned straight As and became the first person in her family to go to college. And she didn't stop there: She went on to earn an MBA and is completing her PhD program studying organizational management.
Today, at age 34, Nikia is conquering a life-long struggle with obesity through a healthy diet and exercise, resulting in a 70-pound weight loss. She says surviving cancer has motivated her to take control of her total health, and she finds great joy in encouraging others to do the same. Still, her greatest joys and challenges lie ahead of her. After discovering pre-cancerous cells during a recent mammogram and biopsy, Nikia decided to take a proactive step to prevent the likely recurrence of breast cancer by undergoing a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.
Nikia, who is also a licensed and ordained minister, is more committed than ever to reach out to others through her music, ministry, and advocacy. She continues to tirelessly educate young women that the disease can strike at a young age. She also travels the country focusing on helping women who suffer with issues of inadequacy and insecurity. Nikia serves as an ambassador for the Circle of Promise campaign, a breast cancer awareness movement geared specifically toward African-American women. Nikia also volunteers as an advocate for the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, Reach to Recovery International, and the University of Chicago Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research Center.
In 2009, Nikia expanded her advocacy into scientific peer review by serving as a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP), and she has served on several BCRP peer review panels since then. Of this experience, Nikia notes, "Having breast cancer at such a young age put me at many disadvantages - including having limited knowledge and access to available treatments, education, and resources. But serving the BCRP through peer review has been a tremendous gift of empowerment for me. Through this program, I am able to lend my experience and ultimately my voice to the growing number of young, uninsured, and underinsured women who struggle for access to quality treatment. That's why in my every evaluation of the latest and greatest in breast cancer research and treatment, I try my best to honor the privilege of this great opportunity by keeping this audience in the forefront of my mind and heart."
Nikia says her most rewarding advocacy opportunity to date was traveling to the continent of Africa, where she was able to minister to young girls, ages 13 and 14, who were battling stage 4 breast cancer. Nikia rallied the support of her community and proudly presented young, underprivileged African patients with nearly $1,000 worth of bras, prosthetics, and medical supplies and over $115,000 to support the Princess Nikky Breast Cancer Foundation in Abuja, Nigeria.