Two Zionsville moms recently got news nobody ever wants to hear.
Nicole Baker, owner of Zionsville dog walking business Happy Tails, and Kathy Wood, a real estate agent for Century 21, were diagnosed with cancer only months apart. They have been friends for 15 years.
“I found out Aug. 29, (2023),” Baker said. “I am 44, which is young compared to the average age women find out.”
Baker is battling Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. She found a lump in her breast a few months before her diagnosis and thought it was a clogged duct from breastfeeding her children.
Wood, 59, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November after a doctor’s appointment for what she thought was a gastrointestinal problem. Her mother survived breast cancer before dying from pancreatic cancer.
“I was gaining weight in the bottom of my abdomen, and I never gain weight there,” Wood said. “I thought maybe I had a hernia on my groin. I got a CAT scan the day before Thanksgiving and they saw I had a softball-sized tumor on my ovary.”
Both women are now in treatment, which involves several weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. Baker had two lumpectomies to remove cancerous cells, and Wood will soon have surgery to remove her tumor.
So far, the women said they are handling the treatment well, with minimal symptoms besides low energy. On Dec. 22, 2023, Baker joined Wood at No Label Studio, a Zionsville hair salon, where Wood shaved her hair. Baker earlier had a family member shave hers.
“Now, when I get questions about my hair, I plan to see it as an opportunity to talk about what I am going through,” Wood said.
Wood and Baker met 15 years ago when they were part of the Parent Teacher Organization at Pleasant View Elementary in Zionsville.
“Kathy was herding all of us in this room and getting everyone organized, and I remember thinking, I don’t know who this woman is, but she is important,” Baker said.
Wood said she and Baker have remained friends through the ups and downs of life for the past several years.
“She was the first person I told about my diagnosis besides my family,” Wood said.
Wood and Baker said they are thankful to have each other’s support. They have also received endless support from their husbands and children.
“My kids are super supportive, and I told them I just want them to be normal around me,” Wood said. “I don’t want them to cry.”
Baker agreed, saying that one of the most complex parts of her cancer journey has been the people around her dealing with their own “mortality.”
“Kathy and I are constantly processing our diagnosis, but so are our friends and family,” Baker said. “Even people I don’t know will look at me or ask me about my cancer and cry.”
Now, the friends want to share their battle in hopes of helping other women learn to listen to their bodies.
“I felt that lump for weeks,” Baker said. “I thought I was too young and had no family history of cancer, so that it couldn’t be that.”
In March, Baker plans to attend a young survivors coalition for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45.
“The average age is 60 for breast cancer,” Baker said. “When I go to all these appointments, I am usually the youngest in the room by at least 20 years. I want to go to the coalition because we can have all the love and support from friends and family, but we are staring at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day.”
Wood and Baker hope that people hear their story and seek medical attention if they feel something off in their bodies.
“If we can help one person, or 10 people, decide to get themselves checked out, that would be a godsend for me,” Wood said.
The Kathy Wood File
Name: Kathy Wood
Job: Real Estate Agent at Century 21
Husband: Todd Wood
Children: Three sons, ages 26, 23 and 20
Favorite place in Zionsville: “My husband and I go to downtown Zionsville every weekend. We love the restaurants and trails. For me, it is about the vibe and people in the community.”
The Nicole Baker File
Name: Nicole Baker
Job: Owner of Happy Tails, and publicist for Smith Publicity in New Jersey
Husband: Matt Baker
Children: Three sons, one daughter
Favorite place in Zionsville: “I love our little brick street. We love Cobblestone, Noah Grant’s, Friendly Tavern and so many more places.”