01/02/07 — Miss Goldsboro speaks out about skin cancer and in honor of her dad

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Miss Goldsboro speaks out about skin cancer and in honor of her dad

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 2, 2007 1:54 PM

Miss Goldsboro 2007 Nicki Sanderson had no problem deciding what her platform in the pageant would be -- it would center around a defining moment for her family.

Her father, Kenneth Sanderson, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma nearly a dozen years ago. The imprint it left has served as a catalyst that has brought the family closer. And today, Nicki eagerly seeks ways to educate others on skin cancer prevention.

For one of her college classes, she asked about conducting a survey on guarding against skin cancer. She was surprised by the results and the lack of awareness.

Nicki decided to take it a step further and spoke to the class on the topic.

"I told them the risk factors, how to prevent it," she said. "A lot of people didn't even know what it was."

Her passion on the subject might have prompted her to enter the Miss Goldsboro pageant, but whether or not she won the title, Nicki said she knew she wanted to make a difference.

"I definitely want my main focus to be on educating people in the community about melanoma," she said. "I would also like to raise money for melanoma research. In the last 30 years, there's been no medical advancements in the treatments of melanoma. I hope I can raise money and help to change that."

She also has a heart for those going through what her family did.

"I think I can speak to patients and families and offer comfort," she said. "When you go through something like that, you really learn a lot. I think I can share my experiences."

The 18-year-old has a unique perspective on the subject, her dad says. Although she and her three siblings were quite young when he was diagnosed, they felt the ripple effects even if they didn't grasp the magnitude.

"I think she learned a lot from going through a family that has cancer," he said.

Sanderson still recalls the day he learned he had cancer.

"When I found out, I didn't know what melanoma was. I don't know that I had ever heard of it," he said.

A series of surgeries followed over the years to remove lymph nodes, as did other therapies and treatments.

Sanderson, 51, had his last surgery about six years ago. While he continues to be monitored annually, his wife said he is considered to be in remission.

She is guardedly optimistic.

"We're more relaxed now than we were, but it's a thing that doesn't leave you," she said. "It stays with you every day."

Nicki admits she probably didn't understand the situation as well as she does now.

"We knew he was sick, but to know that he could have definitely died from that ... " she said, her voice trailing off. "But I did know he was in bad condition. It definitely changes your outlook on life and your values. We have a lot stronger family values and Christian values."

The family lives on the outskirts of Wayne County in Four Oaks. Neighbors on one side have a Mount Olive address while on the other it's Grantham. Nicki said, "We tell everybody this is where the world meets."

There is a rich history of farming and education in the Sanderson family. Vickey teaches eighth-grade English at Grantham School and Kenneth grows tobacco, corn and soybeans on the family farm, with blackberries harvested in the summer.

The couple grew up down the road from one another. They have raised four children. Josh, 22, is a senior at N.C. State University; Matt, 20, farms with his father; Kari and Nicki, fraternal twins, share an apartment in Greenville, where they are sophomores at East Carolina University. Both are studying to be teachers.

The girls finished their senior year at Southern Wayne in December 2005 and immediately headed off to college. They returned the following June to receive their diplomas with their graduating class.

As part of a farm family, the offspring have pitched in since they were old enough to help.

"We worked every summer, in the tobacco and blackberries, and on Christmas break, (Dad) makes Christmas wreaths and sells them," Nicki said. "It starts around Thanksgiving, so when we're off from school we're usually working."

Nicki is also a dancer and says she hopes to one day open up her own dance studio. During the spring semester, she will teach ballet and tap dance in Greenville to 3- to 5-year-olds.

For the pageant, her talent was lyrical dance, which she describes as "faster than ballet, slower than jazz." She has taken lessons for eight years with Heather Beaman of Dancin' Daze of Mount Olive, who will choreograph her routine for the Miss North Carolina Pageant in June.

When she set out to enter the Miss Goldsboro pageant, Nicki said she first consulted her parents. It was almost expected that her platform would be based on the family's experiences with cancer.

"We just knew I would do that," she said. "I think (Dad) really wanted me to do it. I think that sharing his story would definitely make a difference and he understands that."

He has been not only supportive but Nicki said she would like to think he's also proud of the stance she has taken.

"To have Nicki come up and be able to use something that I went through to make people more aware of the degrees of melanoma is a good thing," Sanderson said. "Good things can come out of something that doesn't look good sometimes."

Recalling his own struggles, Kenneth said there were blessings in the midst of it all.

"When you go through something like that, it makes you realize what's really important and what's not important," he said.

"Everybody has these difficult times. But it's how you react and act and what we learn from those times and the importance of trusting the Lord and having a close church family and good doctors. The Lord gave us all three of those and all of them were important. ... I believe Nicki's learned the importance of all three."

Having a reigning "queen" in the family is just starting to sink in and Nicki said she is looking forward to the year ahead. She said she hopes the chances for getting her message out will continue even after she relinquishes the title.