From Patient To Dancer


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 12, 2015) — Most students preparing to participate in the 10th anniversary of DanceBlue are anticipating a need for caffeine, learning lots of new dance moves and happily celebrating a year-long fundraising effort to fight pediatric cancer. But for Nicole Upchurch, a freshman psychology major, DanceBlue 2015 will represent so much more.

A native of Somerset, Kentucky, Upchurch attended Southwestern High School where she played soccer. She played center midfielder and spent hours practicing and training with hopes to play in college. But when swelling in her finger and weariness began to inhibit her ability to play soccer, Upchurch felt that something was not right.

Doctors told Upchurch that she had giant cell tumor of bone and underwent surgery to put in artificial bones in her finger. She was told that she could not play soccer until her hand healed.

After months of resting, Upchurch was cleared to play again. She returned for a few practices, but shortly her tumor returned as well. Her doctors decided that she needed more help and her journey at Kentucky Children’s Hospital began.

When Upchurch arrived in Lexington, the news wasn't good. After several scans, doctors revealed that she had 17 tumors in her lungs and would also have to have her finger removed.

That news did not stop her.

“I’m ready,” she told the doctors. “Whether it ends good or bad, I don't have a choice.”

The physicians caring for Upchurch took their job very seriously, and they continued to encourage her along the way.

“Having doctors like that during the whole process made me feel so much more comfortable and so confident.”

Despite the excellent care of her doctors, Upchurch ended up losing her finger. Following a biopsy of her tumors, she also suffered from a collapsed lung. Because of various treatments to her lung, Upchurch spent over a month in the DanceBlue KCH Hematology/Oncology Clinic. Despite the constant hours in the hospital, Upchurch still managed to have fun.

“People always say to me, ‘Oh I’m so sorry you had to spend all that time in the hospital,’" Upchurch said. "I felt like I was at summer camp!”

Upchurch felt that the doctors and nurses of the clinic were not only dedicated to their occupations, but also to ensuring that every patient was as comfortable as possible. The clinic staff became her family.

“You can just tell that everyone there loves their job.”

Although Upchurch was able to play a few more games her senior year soccer season, life outside of the hospital was somewhat complicated. Friends and family had trouble relating to what Upchurch was going through. Although they consoled her, it was her fellow patients who brought her the most comfort. They related to each other and became an extended support system.

“He really helped me and motivated me to get through this,” Upchurch said of one particular patient. “Seeing someone like him smile makes me happy.”

Upchurch felt that the kids in the clinic taught her a lot about life. She learned about herself, and she changed as a person.

“Even though they go through all this, they just stay happy," Upchurch said. "I think being told you have something like cancer — from that moment on you are changed. You’re going to look at the world like everything is a blessing. You realize the important things and the unimportant things in life.”

Upchurch was able to share this insight at DanceBlue 2014. During Memorial Hour, she spoke in front of thousands of people about her time in the clinic and what DanceBlue meant to her.

In fact, while on stage Upchurch announced that she was going to attend the University of Kentucky for college. The crowd erupted in applause.

“DanceBlue honestly changed my life," she said. "I don’t talk in front of people ever, but I had never been more confident or comfortable in my entire life. I wanted to do it.”

For Upchurch, DanceBlue didn’t just provide relief and services. It filled a void.

“I’d been really trying to hold on to soccer, like I wanted to go play soccer somewhere. I was clearly not at the best of my ability. I was nowhere close to where I would’ve been. I actually made my final decision that I was going to go to UK when I was at DanceBlue.”

This year, Upchurch will be participating as a dancer in her first marathon. She has high hopes and is incredibly excited to give back to the organization that gave her so much. Tumor-free since May, she is ready to join the more than 800 University of Kentucky students dancing for a cure.

DanceBlue is UK’s 24 hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon that benefits the Golden Matrix Fund and the DanceBlue KCH Hematology/Oncology Clinic at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Now in its tenth year, DanceBlue has raised more than $6.5 million for pediatric cancer research and child life efforts. Give to DanceBlue here and connect with DanceBlue on Facebook at and on Twitter at

DanceBlue is a program housed in the UK Center for Community Outreach (CCO). The CCO seeks to serve, connect and unite the University of Kentucky with the surrounding community in collaborative efforts to promote life-long community service. For more information about the CCO, visit Connect with the CCO on Facebook here and on Twitter at


MEDIA CONTACT: Katy Bennett,, 859-257-1909