Name: Nicole Czarnomski

Age: 45

Occupation: Marketing director/writer

Where we found her: Shorewood Senior Campus

Are you originally from Rochester? No. I grew up in a small town in Missouri—Holts Summit. We didn’t even have a stoplight when I was growing up.

What brought you here? My husband. He’s from Winona.

How did you meet? Through mutual friends in Missouri. At the time, he was a contractor building houses and creating additions. He was working on a yoga studio/second floor of a home for a friend of mine. She was like, “You have to meet my contractor. He’s so sweet and so cute and so responsible.” I told her that was ridiculous. I wasn’t interested in meeting her contractor. She said, “I’ll have a party and we’ll see what happens.” At the party, he ended up doing a lot of tours of the addition and talking to a lot of people, so I didn’t have a chance to get to know him. A week later, I invited him to get coffee. And it just worked. And he is actually amazing.

What prompted the move to Minnesota? We dated for a couple of years, but it was long-distance for a while. I was in Missouri finishing my master’s degree, and he returned to the Rochester area. His GI Bill was about to expire, so he wanted to use it for a program at RCTC. I moved up once I finished my degree and we got married in 2009. We actually live in St. Charles. I’m a small-town girl.

Nicole Czarnomski. Photo by Joe Ahlquist /
Nicole Czarnomski. Photo by Joe Ahlquist /

Tell me about working at Shorewood Senior Campus? The residents are amazing. They’re unbelievable. I can’t even tell you what joy they bring to me. I love this community—it’s so vibrant, so healthy and strong. I get to bring people in and I get to wine and dine them, show them what we have to offer. And I get to learn, so where did you work? How many kids do you have? Grandkids? What’s keeping you busy?

Five things you love? Just five?! Well … writing and reading. That’s one! Family and friends. Can those be one, too? [Laughs.] I love being creative. I’m always trying to figure out what’s next: What should I paint? What should I write? And then … coffee and wine. Can that be one? And then, one more … oh! I love my cats. The cats are the kids. They rule the roost. I have a calico I’ve had longer than my husband—she’s very talkative and very sassy. Her name is Biscuit. Then we have Pearl. She’s the sweetest, most cuddly cat. She always wants to love on you.

Tell me about your writing? Back in 2011, I started freelancing for a couple local magazines and absolutely loved it. I got to the point that I knew I wanted to write a book—I just didn’t know what I wanted to write about. In July 2017, I was really going strong, working regularly with several publications. That all came to a screeching halt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a couple of tumors, and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I was facing chemotherapy, radiation. I was going to have the works. I knew that I would need to take a step back and focus on my health.

How did you cope? I’m kind of a journaling geek. I’ve journaled most of my life. As I was going through this process, I was showing up at the page more and more often. I was trying to get out of the fear and pity-party mode and just start loving life—because the diagnosis scared the crap out of me. I was a healthy, 42-year-old woman who exercised and ate right. Why is this happening to me? Through my journal, I started realizing that I was becoming an expert on what it’s like to have breast cancer and what choices I was going to have to make. I started compiling my journal entries and writing a book about my cancer journey.

You found your topic. I really wanted to help others. With breast cancer, there are so many decisions, so many types, so many ways to treat it, so many side effects. Everybody’s journey is different. And I wanted to put it on paper to share with others—and show that even in dark times, there’s something good to learn from the challenges you face.

What’s the title? How Cancer Cured My Broken Soul. It’s on Amazon as an e-book.

What’s next? I’m starting a blog, and trying to create an online journaling community. Journaling was so cathartic for me, so I have a guided journal that I’m launching for others. There are four distinct categories with 10 journal prompts in each category. It’s not necessarily just for breast cancer patients. There are so many cancer patients that are going through this, too. Through the blog, I’ll be writing about journaling and teaching people how to journal. Those are next steps.

You’re a Pink Ribbon Mentor at Mayo Clinic? Yes, I get to talk with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. I’m here to help them and say, “You’ve got this.” We just talk. They might have questions about chemo and losing hair, or side effects, or treatment. … I do my best to keep their spirits up and let them know I’m here. Breast cancer is not the diagnosis that anybody wants. But it doesn’t have to end your life. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. There are so many things I learned about myself through it, and I’m grateful I had that opportunity.

The biggest lesson you’ve learned? That I am enough. That I don’t have to keep trying to impress anyone. I don’t have to keep trying to have the right car, the right clothes, more money. I’m enough right here, right now.