Strength and overcoming: Cancer survivor Nicole Baldwin ’27 hopes her resilience brings awareness

Diagnosed at age 7 with Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer, Baldwin hopes to be a symbol of strength for those with cancer.

Baldwin in August 2023 singing the National Anthem at Fenway Park ahead of a Red Sox game.

On a crisp August evening, Nicole Baldwin made her way to behind home plate at Boston’s Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox.

For weeks, she had been downplaying a moment when she was to sing the National Anthem in one of baseball’s most iconic stadiums. As the announcer introduced her and the hollow chatter of 30,000 people ceased as they rose to their feet, Baldwin soon knew there was no diminishing the significance of what she was about to do.

Standing there with microphone in hand, the red jersey she wore might at first glance appeared to be the attire of the Boston Red Sox. But under closer inspection, the blue font outlined in the white read “Jimmy Fund,” which is comprised of community-based fundraising events and other programs that benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The Jimmy Fund helps millions of people in the greater Boston area through its support of cancer research and care. People just like Baldwin, who was diagnosed with the rare kidney cancer, Wilms tumor, at 7 years old.

“I remember having stomach pains and just wasn’t feeling well,” Baldwin recalled. “My parents luckily took me to the hospital, thinking that maybe I had to get my appendix or that sometimes kids can be dramatic. But then it ended up being something bigger.”

In first grade, Baldwin went through various tests and procedures, several rounds of chemotherapy and ended up having one of her kidneys removed. A stressful and difficult situation for anyone, let alone a 7-year-old, Baldwin took it all in stride and credited the experience for giving her a more positive outlook on life.

“I feel like it definitely turned me into a more optimistic person. It gave me the ability to take something really bad and turn it into something good,” Baldwin said. “Going through anything, you will learn a lot. But it brought me closer to my family, made me a stronger person and more open-minded.

Baldwin and her mother at a Boston Bruins game.

“It taught me that you can’t really plan anything in life and stuff will come at you. You have to regroup and it’s about how you deal with it.”

Baldwin has been cancer-free for 11 years and is now a first-year student at Elon, following in the footsteps of her older brother, Matt ’24, a business major at Elon. As she was working on getting acclimated to her new life at Elon, The Jimmy Fund reached out and asked if she would be interested in singing the National Anthem at a Red Sox game.

The Needham, Massachusetts, native was at first honored to even be asked to sing at the game. Then she thought about the logistics of it, having just moved into college and missing class so early into the semester. But eventually, after conversations with her family and friends, she found she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to promote something that has meant so much to her.

Remembering the volunteers from The Jimmy Fund who created a fun environment in the children’s hospital for her and others through games and arts and crafts projects, Baldwin realized this was her way of paying it back.

“They were wanting me to be someone who represented strength and overcoming,” she said. “I thought that was an awesome opportunity.”

Baldwin on the Jumbotron of Fenway Park singing the National Anthem.

On Tuesday, Aug. 29, Baldwin traveled to Boston and was joined by her family. She wasn’t as nervous as she expected she would be. What nerves she did have, she was able to regroup and push past them. “I think I was more nervous about forgetting the lyrics than the actual singing,” she said.

As she finished the performance and applause roared through Fenway, Baldwin looked around the stadium and made sure to take it all in, understanding that her being there was the ultimate symbol of strength and overcoming.

While she doesn’t describe herself as an advocate in the pure sense of the word, she has always done what she could to assist in awareness of cancer treatment and research and hopes to do more in the future.

“I’ve always wanted to volunteer. I don’t think I would want to be a doctor or nurse. But I would say I’m an empathetic person, and hanging out with kids, doing arts and crafts, would be a fun way to be involved,” Baldwin said.