Almost one third of Nick’s short life was spent searching for a treatment that would help him overcome cancer. He modeled determination, courage, strength, amazing fortitude, constant faith and a wonderfully positive attitude. He inspired others by never complaining about pain until it was so severe he couldn’t stand it. He focused on what he could do rather than feel sorry about what he couldn’t do.
During his high school career, Nick displayed outstanding leadership. He served as class president during his sophomore, junior and senior years of high school 1996-1999. As a sophomore he received football honors while playing with the varsity team. He was M.V.P. of the Mid-Prairie football team in 1996, most valuable offensive lineman, first team all-district linebacker and was honored on the district all-academic team. That summer he received the M.V.P. award at the Neil Smith Football Camp in Omaha, Nebraska. As a sophomore he was also inducted into the National Honor Society. He began serving his first of three years as President of the Limecreek Livewires 4H Club and received an award of excellence in public speaking at the Iowa State Fair.
During the fall of his junior year at Mid-Prairie High School, Nick was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Following 10 weeks of chemotherapy, the tumor in his leg was removed. Six inches of his femur was replaced with a stainless-steel rod and he received a total knee replacement. Surgery was followed with 8 months of chemotherapy and 36 weeks of an experimental recovery drug. Nick was happy for the days he could attend school and feel “normal” again. He was selected to attend the Hoby Leadership Conference at Wartburg College in 1997 and the National Council on Youth Leadership in 1998 where he was a finalist and scholarship recipient.
Among the awards he received during his senior year, the Distinguished Service Award, Principal’s Leadership Award and Outstanding FFA Leader. Following graduation from Mid-Prairie High School in 1999, Nick enrolled at the University of Iowa.
On February 25, 2000, re-occurrence of the osteosarcoma was found in Nick’s right lung (two tumors). On March 1, 2000 two-thirds of Nick’s right lung was removed. Nick began a very intense schedule of chemotherapy on a three-week cycle which continued for nine months. Although he had physical limitations, he maintained his full-time student status.
During the summer of 2000, Nick, along with Abby Greiner, and Barry Christner, became the first Iowans to receive the American Red Cross Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders. They were also among the first six in the United States to be honored. The award was given for rescuing 15-year-old Nick Slay from the bottom of the Kalona pool. Nick and Abby administered CPR while Barry called 911.
In April 2001 Nick was diagnosed with a brain tumor, another re-occurrence of osteosarcoma. Surgery to remove the tumor caused him to miss the final three weeks of classes. He was able to complete assignments and take finals at a later time. Nick had radio surgery in June 2001 to the site where the brain tumor was removed.
Nick had recovered from brain surgery and was preparing for his stem cell transplant in September. During a vacation in the Ozarks in July, he decided to “live a little” and ride the tube behind the boat. He hadn’t done this for a long time due to his artificial knee. He rode for miles. When he climbed back into the boat, he said, “My book is going to be called, “It’s not about the Tube.” He was sure he would follow Lance Armstrong’s success story, It’s not about the Bike, with his own success story. Because of his determination and positive attitude, Nick was asked by his doctors to mentor other young men who were newly diagnosed with osteosarcoma.
He was unable to take classes during the fall semester of 2001 due to the stem cell transplant. Nick was again a student during the spring semester of 2002 and was accepted into the College of Business at the University of Iowa.
After starting the fall semester of 2002, Nick’s doctors found another round of tumors, this time on his lungs and left leg. More chemotherapy was too harmful for his body. Nick’s physicians told him there was nothing more traditional medical science could do for him. Nick traveled to Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York where he was given the same news: there was nothing more they could do for him.
Instead of giving up, Nick sought alternative medical treatments. He spent the month of November at the Clear Lake Alternative Medicine Clinic in Houston. He underwent various alternative treatments, took vitamins and supplements, received intravenous fluid treatments and changed his diet. He eliminated sugar, wheat, meat, dairy and processed foods. Every day he took about 130 pills.
In January 2003, it became even more difficult for Nick to breathe. Nick found a clinic in Oak Park, Illinois that offered a treatment for cancer patients called Insulin Potentiation Therapy. He traveled twice a week at first, then once a week for twelve weeks of treatment.
The last five years of Nick’s life had a profound effect on his appearance. His clothing hung on his body, a scar from brain surgery brandished his bald head where he used to wear a football helmet. What didn’t change about Nick was his electric smile and his strong will and determination to stay positive. He passed away on May 20, 2003.