MILLINGTON, Tenn. – “Your risk of breast cancer has increased to 100%,” the breast (cancer) surgeon told Kimberly Nolan, a Quartermaster 1st Class in the Navy Reserve.
That was the kind of drastic, life-altering news that Nolan was not prepared to hear. However, like most things in Nolan’s life, she faced it head on, looking for the blessing amidst the beast; and she found it. Not long after Nolan was pronounced cancer free, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I truly, truly believe that when we go through things, it’s not for us. It’s for someone else,” said Nolan. “God is preparing us to assist someone else. I had to be her strength.”
Nolan, now working as a chaplain’s assistant for Navy Recruiting Command, has spent her life using her strength and experience to uplift those around her.
Nolan recalled attending LaRose Elementary School in Memphis when she was a young girl. She said she had a teacher who made all of the students in her class recite the poem “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes every day after the morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance. At the time, she had no idea just how meaningful that poem would be throughout her life.
“Now as I look back on it, she was really telling a story,” Nolan said. “It’s a mother speaking to her son and letting him know the struggles she had – letting him know that yes, I’ve had it hard, but when you find it hard, don’t you sit down. Don’t you stop. Because I’m still going. I’m still climbing. Because life for me, it ain’t been no crystal stair.”
Nolan’s parents divorced when she was a teenager in middle school. After that, she watched her mother raise her and her two younger siblings as she worked two full-time jobs and even overtime when able. Her mother was her heroine, which undoubtedly shaped her understanding of the word.
“My personal definition of a hero/heroine is basically a person who puts themselves last to help someone else,” said Nolan. “It’s a selfless person who goes outside themselves to help others without a second thought.”
The strength Nolan’s mother embodied during her childhood was instrumental in Nolan raising her four boys as a single parent. The poem she recited every day in elementary school made more sense with each passing day, especially after becoming a mother. Despite life’s difficulties and her responsibilities as a mother and a Sailor, Nolan had something in her heart that longed to do more and help others.
“I like to pour kindness into other people,” Nolan said. “When you can pour into other people, it makes them feel that they can go on to a brighter tomorrow – that there is hope for tomorrow. I just feel it’s a need to help others. I truly do. I just feel like what the world needs now is love. People will remember how you made them feel. An act of kindness goes a long way.”
At Navy Recruiting Command, her kindness is ubiquitous. From handing out treats to planning the next holiday party as a part of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committee, she’s always extending herself. Her care for the morale and wellbeing of her fellow Sailors led her to create the “positivity energy lounge,” which she dubbed Café La Rue. The energy lounge is a break area where people can come to relax and let their stress disappear.
“You can tell that she cares a great deal for the people in her life – professionally and personally,” said Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Woods. “I would go so far as to say that she is the command’s spirit and morale!”
Nolan has especially left an impression on those who work closely with her every day.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Petty Officer Nolan for over a year now, and the selfless nature with which she works is one that is exhibited by very few,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher West, program manager of the U.S. Navy Chaplain Candidate Program. “She truly has a heart for serving, and has a very unique gift of hospitality. She gives back to the community through her serving as a mentor for incarcerated females, helping them to prepare for their return to the general population after release, and further giving them guidance after they are released to ensure that they do not make the same mistakes that led to their incarceration. She also serves our command in a variety of avenues. She has served the MWR committee, as well as on various cultural committees. It is a pleasure working with her, and witnessing her heart for service!”
Even after a routine mammogram in 2016 that led to a biopsy and subsequent surgery, Nolan stayed focused on how her breast cancer diagnosis would affect her family, not her. For years after the surgery Nolan experienced a seemingly never-ending loop of scares and follow-ups. Scares she experienced ranged from having a breast surgeon tell her that her risk of breast cancer had increased to 100% to finding out she had a cyst the size of a golf ball.
Despite the toll it took on her, Nolan was more concerned about her loved ones than anything else.
“I was thinking about my children,” she said. “Everybody can say that I’ll do this, and I’ll do that, but nobody does it like mom.”
Luckily, Nolan had a moment of clarity after the surgery. It was then that she realized how to push herself forward down the painful road of recovery. The first thing was not to get the prescribed painkillers filled.
“They are still in paper form to this day,” she chuckled. “That was my fight or flight time. I didn’t want to give up. I feel like everything starts in your mind. You either do it or you don’t. You either can or you won’t. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can. So I told myself that I have to fight.”
She kept the pain to make sure she never lost focus of what mattered most.
“Pain over matter,” said Nolan. “I had to be there for my children.”
And then she had to be there for her mother.
Now with Nolan and her mother both cancer free, Nolan can give back to herself from time to time. She has participated in poetry enactments where people don costumes and bring their favorites to life. Nolan recalled, “One time I gave an amazing performance of ‘Mother to Son’ by Langston Hughes, with hope that somehow my dream of acting in Hollywood would come true.”
Whether that is destined to happen, only time will tell. In the meantime, Nolan is already a star to those around her – and brighter than most.