Jim Nicholson says he is 50 years old going on 90.
“I have four natural children and two adopted, and I am not supposed to be here but I am.”
“I am not a hero, I am not a miracle, I am just Jim,” he explains.
He has survived rapid progressive Multiple Sclerosis, numerous strokes, two heart attacks, and two bouts with prostate cancer.
“I made the longest journey of my life; many people haven’t had to make it. That long journey is only 18 inches, it’s the distance from here to here,” Jim points from his heart to his head. “It is a very, very long journey, though.”
At the age of 29, he lived in British Columbia, was a fit man and a medic in The Royal Canadian Regiment.
One day, walking in a mall in BC with his wife and children, he collapsed and found himself blind and paralyzed from the neck down.
When he was taken into care, specialists told him he had rapid progressive MS.
His sight slowly came back, as well as movement in his upper body, but it took 16 years for his lower body to be fully mobile again.
“My aspirations and dreams in life ended right then,” he says.
A field medic in the military, he had wanted to be a doctor.
Jim was told in probably five years he’d be on life support.
“That’s not happening!” he told himself.
This affected Jim deeply.
“I pushed everything and everyone away. I am the kind of person that cannot abide by being dependent upon others…so I was ready to give up. I was afraid.”
Jim explains that this affliction made him dig deep and start on that 18-inch journey.
After three months in hospital, Jim found himself a home to live in and glued the pieces back together with his wife and children.
‘You know what, if this is the way I am going to spend the rest of my life, I am going to prove I can,’ he told himself, “and I did.”
“So I began racing wheelchairs, then I started a journey across North America to raise money for medical research for MS.” For financial reasons, his trip was cut short.
On his return to BC, he started working again, first as a car salesman, then, as he was a chef by trade, he went back to cooking.
A series of strokes and a heart attack forced him to stop working for a while, but, contrary to doctors prediction, he was soon working again.
After spending eight years in a wheelchair and another eight in leg braces, Jim was determined to walk again.
“I believed I could walk again. They said I would never walk again, but after eight years in leg braces, I started to walk unaided. I have only started being able to walk properly with my own legs two years ago.”
During a routine check six years ago, Jim found out he had prostate cancer.
“I had all the indicative signs of prostate cancer. It was another slap in the face as my marriage was breaking down at the time too.”
With nowhere to live, he came to Drumheller to live with his parents temporarily and he started radiation treatment.
“I found the doctors very good, very understanding and caring,” he says.
The treatment was hard on him though, which he describes as “miserable at best.”
During another routine check about a year ago, he found the cancer had come back.
“I went down to 98 pounds, I had another radiation treatment which ended recently. It really was not pleasant, it was exhausting, more than exhausting even.”
Jim found again the best way to get through it was by shutting himself off.
“Not to feel emotion,” he explains. “The emotion will eat you more than the treatment will.”
He kept believing in himself though.
“I had to find that inner strength, everyone who goes through these treatments has to find even a sliver of inner strength.”
To beat the exhaustion he felt during the treatment, Jim threw himself into work.
“I did everything everybody told me I couldn’t do!”
He worked at the Atlas Coal Mine, rebuilding an historical railway, worked on vehicles and landscaping. He even started a business called As you wish.
“Anything people want to do, all the work people don’t want to do,” he smiles.
“It wasn’t easy but I did it, I took my frustration out on my work, pushing my body. Emotionally the treatment beat me but I never showed anybody.”
He has recently finished a course of 65 radiation treatments.
“Being a strong individual, anybody who has survived cancer knows that, it is difficult, it is miserable, it is frightening and nothing in life prepares you for that.”
“It’s all about that long 18- inch journey. I am still on that journey.
As an individual who has suffered all these illnesses, I am not afraid to die.”
“This illness is not going to control my life, I will control it. A doctor might tell me my days are numbered and I only have so long, but the way I see it and the way I am, nobody will tell me when I am going to die, I will tell me when I am going to die.”
Although Jim has never wanted help from other people or support organizations, he is a great supporter of the concept of the Relay for Life. He explains when he was approached by the Relay team to do this interview, he didn’t hesitate.
“Relay for life is a fantastic idea, the concept and the aspect of doing this to help prevent somebody else going through this kind of stuff is fantastic.”