Kung fu training gave Nicolas fighting spirit

By Doreen Wachmann

AT the age of 26, Nicolas Goldmeier, who began kickboxing at 15, thought he would live for ever.

Then he discovered he had an unusual form of cancer which caused him to undergo simultaneous dosages of radio and chemotherapy and to lose half of the top of his mouth, making such simple operations as eating and speaking agonising challenges.

It was his martial arts training which saw him through all his pain and challenges to beat the odds.

Nicolas, who now heads the Jewish studies department at north-west London's large Sinai Jewish Primary School, has just published a book, Fighting Spirit - A Cancer Survivor's Journey, to encourage others to fight their battles with the dreaded disease.

"I was young, fit and healthy," he told me. "I had a wife and two young boys, who were the light of my life. I had completed two years of teaching and was moving onto a new job, which was effectively a promotion."

At first Nicolas took no notice of the small lump next to his nose until the day it changed out of all recognition.

Nicolas recalled: "Suddenly one Shabbat, my face blew up, absolutely swollen beyond recognition. The right side of my face looked like it had been pounded again and again, leaving a huge swelling, redness and soreness."

Visits to his dentist, GP and hospital A&E department initially provided no clue to the reason for the swelling.

It was only when his father, Dr David Goldmeier, who worked as a consultant in sexually transmitted diseases at St Mary's Hospital, London, referred him to a consultant colleague at the hospital's A&E department that Nicolas' condition was taken seriously.

A biopsy in a specialist department of another London hospital found cancer in his sinus and nose with fears that it had spread to his brain and eye.

Nicolas said: "My cocooned world of 'living forever' had just been given an almighty blow."

But help was at hand when he received a phone call from his martial arts instructor who reminded him of the phrase he repeatedly drummed into him during Kung Fu training - "fighting spirit".

Nicolas firmly believes that it was this which helped him beat the odds and endure the months of radio and chemotherapy designed to shrink the tumour to an operable size.

Nicolas said: "It was horrific. Because I was young and fairly fit, they absolutely blasted me with radio and chemotherapy simultaneously for about two or three months. I was an inpatient more than a day patient. I can't describe the pain it caused me.

"Fighting spirit gave me the courage to endure it. When I was faced with a physical opponent while I was training I got that mind-set and psyche.

"Cancer is an elusive foe. It can't be seen. But I battled my cancer as though I was a martial artist or a boxer."

The radio and chemotherapy managed to shrink the cancer, which was threatening to invade the left side of his face, and confine it to his nose and the right side of his face.

Four months after the initial diagnosis Nicolas underwent a maxillectomy to remove his maxilla bone, part of the upper jaw which stretches from the roof of the mouth, through the nose to the eye socket.

His right palate - with half of his teeth - was removed.

He said: "You can still see that one side of my face goes slightly upward. Nevertheless those around me still loved me and cared for me.

"Those going through a similar situation should know that they will always do so.

"I want the book to give positivity to family and friends of those with cancer. There is always a way to overcome."

But he added: "There is a section in the book in which I talk about destiny.

"I was concerned when I wrote the book about close friends or family of people who have tragically lost their lives to cancer.

"I don't want them to think, God forbid, that they didn't fight hard enough.

"I make a point in the book that everyone has a destiny. If you believe in God or a Higher Power, then you believe that if God has given you the chance to fight the cancer, you have to use that ability.

"However, it could be decided by God or a Higher Power that it is not to be. The message I am trying to give is that if the fight is given to you, you should use it."

And fight Nicolas certainly did. As the cancer was near his mouth, eating became a problem.

During his initial treatment, the pain on tasting a tiny amount of yoghurt was like "someone had peeled my mouth with a potato peeler and rubbed salt in the raw wounds," he recalled.

Nicolas, who started off as a lightweight, was reduced to a flyweight as he lived initially on a diet of water, watercress soup and soya yoghurts, with liquid morphine to take the edge off the pain.

But Nicolas regarded the drug as part of his arsenal in his fight.

After his maxillectomy, Nicolas was fitted with a prosthetic obdurator to take the place of what had been removed.

He wrote: "Now came the massive hurdle of eating, drinking and speaking. I felt so depressed that I could no longer eat as before.

"The mouth-piece was a solid piece of metal with teeth on. Only strong determination and will-power would help me overcome my newly-constructed mouth."

Nicolas has to regularly rinse out his mouth, carefully taking his prosthesis out, cleaning it thoroughly and putting it back, praying that no left-over water drips down his nose while he is teaching a class, as the area around the top of his mouth and nose is numb and food and drink tend to stream involuntarily from his nose and mouth.

He cannot eat while talking and finds difficulty in professional meetings where people chat over a buffet.

But he regards all these inconveniences as a small part to pay for his life.

Then three months after his maxillectomy, cancer was found in his neck and he was operated on to remove 44 glands.

He compared the procedure to that of David and Goliath.

He wrote: "The tumour in my head and neck was my Goliath and it had to be defeated."

But, Nicolas who gained semicha but does not want to be known as a rabbi for the purposes of the book, does not only use biblical allusions in his book, but refers to boxing legends like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Michael Watson, as well as the Rocky films, as role models for those fighting cancer.

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph