Health

Dec 2, 2010 8:18 PM by Zach Thaxton

D-20 school psychologist, 33, dies from Melanoma

It took less than a year for melanoma to claim Nicole Lariviere, 33, a vibrant and athletic elementary school psychologist.  A routine checkup just after the New Year revealed the disease that took her life with her family by her side the day after Thanksgiving.

Lariviere worked in Academy School District 20, which honored her life with a memorial service at district headquarters on Thursday night.  For the past several years, she helped young students at Prairie Hills Elementary near Research Parkway and Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs cope with emotional and behavioral issues.  Now, they're having to cope with the death of one of the few advocates who really understood them.

Lariviere, an avid runner, went in for a routine checkup shortly after the new year.  During the exam, her doctor noted a mole that should be removed and checked for skin cancer.  It tested positive for melanoma.  Additional skin around the mole was also removed and, for awhile, it seemed that procedure had taken care of the problem.  Lariviere traveled often during the summer break, visiting friends and family across the country.  It seemed the strong athlete with sharp wit and a keen sense of humor had defeated the disease.

In late August, Lariviere went back to the doctor for her 6-month checkup.  A chest X-ray revealed the cancer had come back and had spread.  Several spots were noted on her lungs.  Despite the bleak prognosis, Lariviere kept working, hanging out with friends, pranking co-workers, and even participating in a half-marathon on October 17.

The next day, Lariviere's condition went downhill, according to close friend Heather Fleming.  A few days later, an examination revealed the cancer had spread aggressively, attacking her ovaries, pancreas, abdomen, and eventually her brain.  It took just a month longer for the disease to claim her life.

Lariviere spent much of November in the hospital, receiving visits from family and friends.  She left the hospital to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, much of which was visiting from outside Colorado.  The next morning, the disease took her.  She passed away peacefully with family by her side. "Nicole .. was strong in so many ways," Fleming wrote on her Facebook wall. "One of the funniest and most caring individuals. She fought that cancer until the end. I'm honored that I got to call her a best friend."

Prairie Hills Elementary staff and students were notified of Lariviere's death when they returned to classes Monday and Tuesday, but many had heard the sad news through the grapevine over the weekend.  "It's been painful, but rewarding, to see her babies (students), who she worked so hard with teaching them how to cope, cope through this painful process," said special education teacher Jessica McMichael.  Lariviere was known as a prankster at her school, McMichael said, often pulling off complex and time-consuming pranks.  McMichael says even in severe illness and now in death, Lariviere helped encourage learning.  "I think every single person should go to the doctor and have a check-up.  I had no idea what a vicious disease it was until Nicole educated me."

Indeed, melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from skin disease, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.  If treated and recognized early, it is usually curable, but if it's not caught early it can spread to other parts of the body.  "People think melanoma and they think, 'Oh, just go and have it cut off and you're good,' but it's a vicious, nasty disease," McMichael said, "and I hope if people learn anything from Nicole's experience with it, that they have regular check-ups."

Family and friends ask that donations in Lariviere's memory be made to the Melanoma Research Foundation or Autism Speaks.

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