Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Hidden Heroes
Caregiver Journey Map Campaign for Inclusive Care

Nikki Stephens

Sacrifice, strength, selflessness, and love.

What was one of your first major challenges as a military caregiver?

I didn’t realize the depth of grief I would face. When I first got married, I had one idea of what our life together would look like. I had to grieve the life that would not happen.  Once I did that, I could accept what he had to deal with personally and what we had to deal with as a couple and as a family.

What are some of your current challenges?

My husband suffers major cognitive deterioration so he is not able to drive or take the kids on errands. We are still in love and we are trying to work around his difficulties. We’ve had to start dating again. I’m super optimistic and he’s totally game to try anything.

How has being a military caregiver changed you?

I definitely know how strong I am! I can get stuff done and am absolutely confident in myself. I am much more resilient than I ever thought I could be. I’m a little more guarded, because with all my family’s stresses, we have to be very protective of our time commitments. It is isolating, but I work to make time for friends and peers.

My Story

Nikki had never heard of traumatic brain injury (TBI) until her husband, John, was diagnosed with it in 2009. He served in Iraq and was honorably discharged in 2006 with a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. His symptoms worsened and it took 16 months for doctors to correctly diagnose him with left temporal lobe epilepsy.

As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Nikki advocates, not only for her husband and other caregivers, but for military children as well.