Celebrating Six Years After Glioblastoma: Nicole Schalmo Continues to Inspire

Dr. Guy McKhann and Nicole at the 2023 Columbia Neurocharity Softball Tournament

The Night That Changed Everything

Actress, singer and advocate Nicole Schalmo has always been a fighter. Back in May 2018, after going to bed on just another regular evening, she awoke to find herself in an MRI machine at NYP Hospital, which ultimately revealed a tennis ball-sized brain tumor. After an emergency craniotomy and biopsy, she received the news that the tumor was a Grade IV Glioblastoma, a difficult-to-treat aggressive brain cancer with an average life expectancy of 13 months. Dr. Guy McKhann and his team at Columbia Neurosurgery performed the emergency surgery to successfully remove the entire tumor. Following, Dr. Teri Kreisel and Columbia’s Neuro-Oncology team took over for Nicole’s ongoing treatment.

"Cancer clearly had no idea who it was messing with - I was committed to becoming the exception to the rule,” remembers Nicole. 

Shaping Her Own Future 

With the support of her family and (then) fiancé, Nicole began her treatment plan that included 6 weeks of radiation therapy 5 days a week, combined with oral doses of chemotherapy taken for 30 days followed by a higher dosage for 5 days every 23 days for a year. After requesting approval from her neuro-oncology team, Nicole chose to switch to a fully plant-based diet, including daily cold-pressed juices. A personal choice she maintained throughout her treatment. 

Sherron Jones, one of the nurses at the Department of Radiology was one of the team members that took care of Nicole throughout her treatment. Says Sherron, “As a nurse, I approach every patient with the same level of care and compassion I would give to my own family. I strive to build strong connections with each individual, treating them with the utmost respect and love, just as I would with my own mother, father, sister, or brother. This personal approach ensures that they receive the best possible care and support during their time under my care.”

Six months after the night that changed her life, Nicole married the love of her life as a bald bride. After completing her final round of high-dose chemotherapy in September 2019, she and her husband celebrated their one-year anniversary in Europe as their, albeit delayed, honeymoon.

In 2020, Nicole completed filming the sci-fi film Risen and joined the American Brain Tumor Association as an advocate and fundraiser. When the pandemic hit, she had the sudden realization she had already been self-isolating since 2018, quickly offering up advice to family and friends on how she had been filling her days and coping with necessary isolation.

Every Year Getting Stronger

In 2022, she completed her first NYC Half Marathon with Team ABTA. She attended her niece's graduation from high school and completed additional races to support brain tumor research, patients and their families.

In the last two years, Nicole has completed six additional races, including the 2024 NYC Half Marathon with Team ABTA. She has chosen to make 2024 a year of running with Team ABTA, six races in total. The final race will be the upcoming NYC Marathon, her first ever full-length Marathon which will also be on her six-year wedding anniversary.

Says Dr. McKhann, “Nicole is an inspiration to all of us who care for brain tumor patients. She is living life with her tumor and its treatment and not letting her tumor determine her life. In addition to her ABTA advocacy, Nicole volunteers at the annual Neurosurgery Charity Softball Tournament, which has raised millions of dollars for neurosurgical research over the past nearly two decades.” 

These accomplishments would be impressive for any person, but Nicole's achievements are remarkable, and most are in awe of her ability to battle back and pursue her dreams.

Nicole says, "In these past six years, I've learned that the weight of this journey is a heavy one, I am still terrified at times, I have bad days, but by finding the moments to dance with the sadness, to find hope within this journey. I know I don’t need to carry that weight alone.”

As for others whose lives have been upended by a glioblastoma diagnosis, Nicole offers this hard-won wisdom, "Rest when your body needs to. Whatever your best is on any given day, it’s enough. Even if your best is a nap!"

The team at Columbia Neurosurgery is honored to have been a part of Nicole's journey and looks forward to seeing her celebrate more amazing milestones in the years to come.

Nicole would like to thank the team at Columbia Neurosurgery for quite literally saving her life, as well as Dr. Peter Chei-way Pan and the entire Neuro-Oncology team at NYP for their constant support and encouragement at her regularly scheduled MRIs.   

Learn more about Nicole’s ABTA fundraising efforts at: https://give.abta.org/SchalmostrongNYC