Monika Wieczerzak, a 30-year-old single mother, looks at the picture of her and her son, which stands proudly on her desk. She can’t believe she almost lost him in his first months in this world. It has been nearly three years since her little boy, Natan, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, but she can still remember every single day of this nightmare.
Monika was 26 when she got pregnant. Unfortunately, her partner had a different plan for his life, so he made her feel guilty and left her all alone.
“I struggled a lot. The course of my pregnancy was challenging. I was utterly lonely. I had to work at night, and could barely make it,” Monika says. She hoped it would be better after giving birth. However, a difficult delivery was just the beginning of her nightmare.
“During those 27 hours of labour, I was sure I’d die. Then, when I was holding my son in my arms, I felt, I’m leaving this world,” she says. She also remembers her mother praying and saying goodbye to her daughter and grandson in North Manchester hospital.
“Doctor didn’t even come into my room after such hard labor. He didn’t examine me, nor my son,” admits Monika.
Initially, her son was developing well. He was breastfed, even though Monika remembers it as an excruciatingly painful and unpleasant experience. After about a month, however, she noticed his belly was growing strangely.
“He looked bloated all the time. So I thought, perhaps I’m eating something that hurts my baby,” she says. However, despite changing her diet, her son’s condition wasn’t changing, so she decided to contact a doctor.
“The look on his face, when he saw my son, made my blood freeze,” she says and recalls that nobody wanted to tell her anything. She didn’t understand what’s happening. She was only told she needs to go to a hospital immediately, so her son can have an ultrasound test, which he got a day after.
“I was given a small bowl for my son to urinate there. I had no idea how to do it. Can you imagine a two-month-old baby urinating into a bowl?” She laughs, reminding her struggle to help her son do it. Test results appeared a few hours later.
“Several doctors came to me and, without unnecessary words, said that based on the ultrasound, they could conclude, my son has cancer,” Monika says and gets up to drink a sip of water, as it’s too difficult to talk about this situation.
“When I asked the doctor if my son will die, he said everyone dies sometime,” she says in a breaking voice. “I was shocked. I was falling into pieces, and a sharp, fiery dagger pierced each part,” she adds.
Shortly after, she decided to write a complaint on the doctor, as she explains: “I believe he was incompetent. First, he didn’t specify what exactly was wrong with my son, and secondly, he should not treat any parent in this way.”
After this, they were transferred to the oncology department in Royal Children Manchester hospital.
The oncology department was full of small, innocent children’s suffering, struggle, and pain.
Natan had a biopsy. Three teams of doctors gathered to give him a diagnosis. It turned out to be neuroblastoma.
“At one point, Natan wasn’t able to breathe because his belly was pressing against his lungs,” Monika says.
Overall, Natan received eight chemotherapy treatments.
“The worst part of it was waiting and wondering if this treatment will help. I saw fear in the doctor’s eyes. He was afraid Natan would not be able to fight anymore,” she adds. Gradually, however, Natan’s tummy was getting smaller, which gave a little light of hope. In the meantime, he received a scan of radioactive drugs to see precisely where cancer cells were.
“It’s terrible to see such a crumb on an operating table. I had to hand my child over to other people, trust that they would help him. The sight of my naked, hungry son, who was covered in blood after surgery, is indescribable.” Tears appear in Monika’s eyes when she remembers it.
After fourth chemotherapy, Natan had a completely bald head, no eyebrows, and a puffy face, but according to his mother, he was still smiling.
“It was priceless. Every next centimeter less on Natan’s belly gave me unimaginable joy,” she admits with a smile on her face.
He later received four more chemotherapy treatments, the latter two being the most severe. One of his operations lasted more than four hours.
“It was the most prolonged operation in his life, but they cut the rest of the tumor from his adrenal gland,” says Natan’s mother.
After this operation, he was considered cured.
Now, Natan is over three-year-old and under constant care. He will have to be monitored until he is ten to ensure his disease is not coming back. According to his mother, everyone who knew him from oncology or daycare can’t believe Natan is this same child they barely saved.
“He is a tall boy now, and even his doctor is surprised that he is growing like this. Natan is also astute. He even knows when I try to trick him into taking his medicine. He knows I’m cheating when I’m telling him it’s his favourite juice,” laughs Monika. She also admits, she still has bouts of bad memories.
During this challenging time, she didn’t receive any psychological help. As she says, she had to be strong for her son. She had no time even to shed a tear.
“I have no grudge against anyone. I have no grudge against God. Sometimes I only feel anger because I don’t understand how such a little boy could go through so many bad things. However, these moments pass when I see his smirk,” she admits and smiles when her son runs into her arms at the exact moment.