The Januszewski Family

At four weeks gestation, a baby is no bigger than a grain of rice. Our House is constantly reminded that ‘small’ and ‘mighty’ often create a powerful force. Baby Zoey is proof of that. At just four weeks gestation, she saved her mother’s life.

In July 2013, Nikki was playing softball and stretched the wrong way trying to catch a fly ball. With the resulting pain and concern for the well-being of her new pregnancy, Nikki and her husband Terry made their way to the Red Deer ER. All lab results came back normal and doctors suspected strained muscles. An ultrasound was ordered for the next day, just to ensure that the baby was safe.

During the ultrasound, the techs looked at the upper left side of Nikki’s belly. They found the baby’s heartbeat and baby looked healthy. Still they kept coming back to Nikki’s left side. They called for the radiologist; as she was conducting the ultrasound test, Nikki’s mind swirled with the thought “Something’s wrong, she’s not even looking at the baby”.

Doctors found a large mass on Nikki’s left kidney. They were unable to detect if the mass was cancerous and more tests were needed. Panic, fear and shock set in as more lab work was ordered. Nikki lived a healthy lifestyle, practiced self-care, and could not fathom how this could be happening.

Two weeks later, during their appointment with a kidney specialist, they were told that the mass was a non-cancerous cyst. The cyst would be watched closely during the pregnancy and needed draining after baby’s arrival. The family was relieved, but Nikki felt that something was left unfinished.

On September 16th, the phone rang again. A Urologist believed that the mass was a cancerous tumor. Surgery was scheduled immediately. The news came as a shock to Nikki, who was spending some time shopping as a distraction. She remembers asking the doctor “Am I going to be OK?” thinking only of her daughter, Ella, and whether she would live to see her grow up. The answer was a resounding “Yes.” Even if surgery was delayed until after Nikki delivered her baby, the doctor felt positively that Nikki would be well.  As random strangers offered her comfort as she broke down in the shopping mall, Nikki’s head was spinning.

The Doctor was 99% certain that Nikki had a contained Renal Cell Carcinoma – cancer of the kidney that had not spread beyond its borders. Surgery would be scheduled following a second MRI to confirm containment. Nikki asked, “So, I have a future with my husband and children?” Her question was met with another resounding “Yes.”

The following Sunday, as Nikki was at the hospital in an MRI, she was meditating to summon peace and strength in the midst of her stress. A loud and sudden voice came, “I came to give you life.” She was awe struck. She had been trying to hold onto hope, while still trying to live in reality. Nikki felt the voice, seemingly from her unborn child, was a soothing reassurance when she needed it most.

The results of the MRI concluded that the tumor was contained and operable. There would be no chemo or radiation required and surgery could be done safely even while pregnant. Nikki was jumping up and down, shouting, “I’m going to be OK! I’m going to be OK!”

Surgery day arrived on Sunday, October 7. Nikki experienced a full range of emotion that morning, including some understandable fear. Comfort came in the form of a protective and supportive nurse, who was also pregnant, an anesthesiologist who took the time to chat with her and answer her questions, and banter with her surgeon that she had come to trust. The last sound that she heard as she was put to sleep was laughter.

Nikki journeyed through her post-op very calmly and smoothly. She dealt with pain, blood transfusions and her painful incision very well. She credits that level of self-care that she practiced before her pregnancy and diagnosis with the smoothness of recovery.

At six weeks after surgery, an ultrasound showed a very limited view of the baby’s heart. The family headed for Calgary, feeling a little bit of déjà vu. A Pediatric Cardiologist diagnosed their unborn baby with Transposition of the Greater Arteries, a condition where the main arterial vessels to the heart are reversed.

Nikki’s first question was, “Is this my fault?” She was reassured that development of the heart was controlled by DNA. Terry and Nikki were offered the option of terminating the pregnancy. Nikki fiercely opposed, believing that the baby had saved her life; therefore she had to give it life. The words that she had heard in the MRI came back to her, further strengthening her position.

Nikki broke down at this additional curve ball and was lovingly comforted not only Terry, but also by her daughter Ella, who hugged her mommy and told her that it was going to be OK.

The doctors told Nikki and Terry that they were having a girl so they named her Zoey, meaning ‘life’.

On March 10 the family arrived at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta. On the first night at the House Nikki felt angry and fearful. She didn’t want to be at the House knowing that her baby would need open heart surgery.

The Januszewski family has seen the family settled into House life. Ella has blossomed, developing new friendships with the other children who call RMHCNA home. She loves helping baking groups in the kitchen and decorating with green sprinkles.

Nikki has also found friendships and community with the other families, and frequently offers her help with lunch preparation and kitchen groups.

The family is settling into yet another ‘new normal’ and welcomed baby Zoey on March 25. They are resting in the assurance that Zoey arrived with no other surprise conditions or threats, and believe positively that one surgery will prove to be a solid and single fix.

They rest in the theme of Zoey’s journey: “You have it, but we can cure it.”

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