In the days after he found out he had terminal brain cancer at age 26, Osmond Nicholas spent a lot of time on the living room sofa, hugging his fiancee as they both dissolved into tears.
“I want to develop a strong relationship and bond with my daughter, whether I have six months or five years,” said Nicholas, a former police officer with the Oceanside Police Department in Southern California, who went on long-term disability earlier this year.
Although long-term survivors of Stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme tumors are rare (Sen. John McCain of Arizona died of the same kind of brain cancer in August 2018), Nicholas said he’s decided not to focus on the calendar.
“It’s been almost three years and I’m still here,” he said. “People can die of anything — I’m going to live, not wait to die.”
In May 2017, Nicholas was about four years into his job as a police officer in Oceanside, where he grew up, when he had a small “blackout” in his patrol car, then suddenly developed severe long-lasting headaches and became excessively tired, he said
Initially, he was misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, until the night before his bachelor party in June 2017.
“I was supposed to meet my friends at the Venetian in Las Vegas, and I'd stopped to stay a night with my parents at their place before driving there,” he said. “In the middle of the night, when I started throwing up, my mom made me go to the ER at 2:30 in the morning."
A CT scan of his brain revealed that Nicholas had a large mass. After a five-hour surgery, the tumor had been removed.
But two weeks later, Nicholas was given the diagnosis from his neurologist that he had glioblastoma multiforme, and the average survival rate for his kind of brain tumor is about 18 months.
“The worst kind of brain tumor you can possibly get,” he said, adding, that sooner or later, the cancer is expected to come back.
Nicholas felt numb as he broke the news to his friends and his fiancee, Trinity Daniel, a law student who was studying to take the California bar exam at the time.
“I asked her if we should go ahead with the wedding — I didn’t want her to be a widow at such a young age,” he said. “But she wanted to go ahead.”
Daniel, 27, said it “never crossed my mind” to postpone or call off the wedding.
“Osmond always wanted to have a big wedding,” said Daniel, 27, who works as an education attorney. “No way was I going to take that experience away from him.”
Two months after completing radiation and chemotherapy, Nicholas and Daniel were married in front of 250 family members and friends on Sept. 9, 2017.
“There were some dark days in the beginning,” admitted Daniel, who met Nicholas in the dorms as a freshman when they were both attending San Diego State University.
“I remember crying on the couch with him and saying, ‘This really sucks, but we need to acknowledge this moment,’ ” she said. “We cried and felt really bad for ourselves, but then we got up and kept going.”
After the wedding, Nicholas thought back to his childhood and wondered if it would be fair for him to become a parent, he said.
“I was really into sports as a kid — I swam and played basketball and football, and my parents were always there for me and were always supportive,” said Nicholas, the youngest of three children born and raised in Oceanside.
When he received a scholarship to play football at San Diego State, “they were my biggest fans,” he said. “I'd always wanted a family, but I wondered if it was a good idea to have a child, knowing that I might not be there to watch my kid grow up."
Daniel had similar worries, but then decided she didn’t want to look back and regret not doing it.
“The timeline got moved up a little earlier than I'd anticipated,” she said. “But I loved the idea of knowing there was a piece of him that would continue no matter what happened in the future."
Nicholas refutes the idea that getting married and having a baby after his diagnosis is selfish. “I do everything in my power to prolong life,” he said.
And tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone.
“I came to the realization that anything can happen to anyone, and some kids today only have their parents for a short time,” Nicholas said. “I thought, ‘Even if I’m not here five or six years from now, I can give my child everything I have today.’ ”
After baby Riyah was born on Nov. 17, 2018, Nicholas felt a joy that has remained constant, he said. Daniel is now working at home due to covid-19, and most of his daughter's care is up to him.
“I get her dressed, I get her fed, I take her hiking a lot and I've set up a T-ball stand for her outside,” he said. “She loves to carry around the soccer ball that I gave her and she runs up to me and calls me 'Dada.' I really love that."
There are some days when he is exhausted, Nicholas admitted, especially now that Riyah is happiest when making a mess. “She's into everything,” he said.
Sometimes, he misses his days in law enforcement, said Nicholas, who hopes to return to the Oceanside Police Department at some point in a supporting role.
Members of Vista Firefighters Local 4107 rallied last year with local police to raise about $16,000 to help Nicholas pay medical bills and make up for some of his lost income, he said.
“I'm so incredibly thankful for everyone's support,” he said. “With everything going on right now, I'd love more than anything to encourage other African American kids to become police officers."
With MRIs now scheduled every six weeks so doctors can track any changes in his brain, Nicholas knows the day will come when he gets news that his cancer has returned.
Because he didn’t respond well to chemotherapy, he wears something called an Optune cap that sends electric impulses to his brain to help stop cancer cells from multiplying, he said.
“I wear it 22 to 23 hours a day and so far, it’s doing what it needs to do,” he said. “Right now, I’m feeling pretty good."
In addition to reading to his daughter, he relaxes by playing his guitar and sharing videos of his songs on Instagram, hoping to inspire other young people who are fighting cancer or other serious illnesses.
View this post on Instagram
“If I could travel through time , I think I. Would tell myself from the past, you’ll be fine” - late night loop jams with my eyes closed (wah pedal got some love) #glioblastoma#musicispeace #soulmusic #fender #bossamps#cancerwontstopme#optune #optunetreatment #braintumorawareness
“I want to encourage them to live their lives as fully as they can,” he said. “It’s made all the difference to me. I’m happy where I’m at right now. Every day is Father’s Day.”
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.