Kim Swiatecki knows how lucky she is to be able to stay at home and look after her son Michael. She cherishes being able to do the little things like read and colour with him. Kim admits she is making up for lost time. Michael was born while his mother was battling Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.
In late 2013 Kim was 24 weeks pregnant, teaching grade two in Clavet, near Saskatoon, and getting ready for the Christmas break. As far as the pregnancy went, she was feeling great. Just before her holiday started, Kim started experiencing back pain that she figured was the pregnancy.
The pain only got worse so she went to the doctor. The doctor said the back pain was from an infection her body was fighting and recommended Tylenol for the pain. Things didn’t improve. On Christmas Eve, while in Calgary with family, Kim’s husband took her to the emergency room. She went through a battery of tests trying to figure out what was wrong.
“I know part of me was like, if I don’t think it, it won’t be true or I don’t want to give (cancer) that power,” Kim says.
The New Year rolled around and Kim’s worst fears were realized. A biopsy of a swollen lymph node revealed she had Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, a rare cancer mostly found in children and young adults. There were also concerns her pregnancy would have to be terminated.
“I was angry at the cancer for that having been an option or a possibility out there.”
Two days later she had her first appointment at the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. “One of the first things they said was, we know we are treating two. We are going to do everything we can to make sure both of you stay safe.” Kim says those words were very reassuring.
Kim says the care she received from the Centre was amazing. The different doctors brought in to deal with the various aspects of her illness and pregnancy helped to reassure her that she and her unborn baby were in the best hands.
“They would ask me is this your first one, is it a boy or a girl? That was incredibly reassuring going through everything, to have everyone so optimistic,” describes Kim.
Kim’s treatment started with a less aggressive form of chemotherapy because of the baby. After one treatment her back pain went away, however, a week later she developed a fever. A spinal tap showed lymphocytes were in her spinal fluid. A more aggressive round of chemotherapy was needed. It meant her baby would have to be delivered nine weeks early.
“During that point it was survival mode. What do we need to do and what’s next,” she said.
Baby Michael was born healthy but needed five weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit because he was premature.
The next few months were tough. After Michael was discharged from the hospital, her husband set up a baby monitor that Kim could watch through her phone when she was in the hospital. It was hard to not be with her newborn baby. “I should be at home discovering lady bugs with my son in the spring in the grass. Not wondering how he’s doing at home,” says Kim.
There always seemed to be another health issue cropping up for Kim – from a fever, to fluid building up on her lungs. In early April of 2014, Kim once again had a fever and now a mass on her abdomen. The doctors were running out of treatment options. This latest complication led to her receiving a new combination of chemotherapy drugs which helped. The mass shrunk and the complications went away. Kim was able to stay out of the hospital.
Fast forward four years and a stem cell transplant later and life for the Swiatecki family is definitely more normal.
She’s thankful for the quality of care she received to help get her to where she is today.
“Having access to high quality equipment, medical staffing and research is critical throughout a patient’s diagnosis – from screening to treatment to follow-up. Supporting the Cancer Foundation of Saskatchewan is pivotal to ensuring that patients and families affected by cancer have access to the most effective treatment options and knowledgeable professionals at every stage of a diagnosis, right here in Saskatchewan.”
Kim is cancer free. She returned to work in 2017 but found it was not the right fit for the family. She said they were always on the go and, after what they’d been through, that was not what she wanted.
Kim had a mantra throughout her cancer journey which she still lives and tries to instill in cancer patients when she meets them. “You are strong, you are brave and you are beautiful. You will beat this cancer.”
Being a cancer survivor has taught her a couple of things about how quickly life can change. She says she and her husband Kris enjoy life more than they ever did, making sure they always make time for their family and for each other, taking pleasure in the little things that count.