Nicole Schindler is a little warrior. Sitting cross-legged on her canopy bed with her dog, “Jo-Jo” on her lap, this 12-year-old year girl is wise beyond her years.
"Now, the little things are important to me,” she said matter-of-factly. ”When I hear people say 'I hate this' I think, you should be happy for the life you have. Be grateful you're here, and enjoy the precious moments."
Just two years ago, Nicole, who goes by Nikki, and her parents, Maureen and Jerry Schindler, along with her twin brother Gerald and younger brother Brian received life-changing news. Shortly after returning from a family ski trip to North Conway, Nikki developed a headache that wouldn’t go away. Following an appointment with her pediatrician and a neurologist, the decision was made to send Nikki for an MRI at South Shore Hospital.
“During Nikki's MRI, they needed to put in an IV. I knew instantly something wasn't right,” said Maureen, a long-time PACU nurse at South Shore Hospital. After a careful examination of the MRI results, Russell Kelly, MD, Chairman of the Department of Radiology, confirmed Maureen’s worst fear: Nikki had a brain tumor.
“They say your life can change in an instant,” said Jerry. “And now I know it's true. You live a moment like that, and you don't even feel what you're living.”
As the Schindlers tried to absorb the devastating news, Maureen’s coworkers from South Shore Hospital came to see the family in the waiting room. One-by-one, nurses, doctors and others surrounded the family—offering support and helping to make arrangements for Nikki’s transport to a Boston hospital for specialized treatment.
“I can’t imagine being somewhere else where we didn’t know anybody,” said Maureen. “Just knowing that I was with my friends and they were going to take care of me until I got to the next step, made me feel safe.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Nikki had brain surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital followed by six months of aggressive chemotherapy and 30 days of Proton Beam Radiation. While the Schindlers traveled frequently to Boston for both Nikki’s inpatient and outpatient treatments, Maureen’s South Shore Hospital colleagues pooled together their earned time. The result: despite not being able to work, Maureen never missed a paycheck and was able to be by Nikki’s side through her entire treatment.
“The people at South Shore Hospital get it. They were our angels on earth,” said Jerry. “They stepped up miraculously and got us through our darkest days.”
Nikki's last chemotherapy treatment was in November of 2015, and today, she's back at school. While she still needs follow-up care and is recovering, she is thankful to get back to doing “normal stuff” and hopes to spread awareness about pediatric cancer.
“After my experience, I hope to spread awareness about childhood cancer and help fight for better medications and treatments. I don’t want another kid to go through what I went through.”
Because of the care Nicole received and the generosity of Maureen’s South Shore Hospital colleagues, the Schindler Family has chosen to make a gift to the South Shore Health System Foundation to honor all of the caregivers instrumental in Nikki’s cancer treatment. Visit our website to learn more about our Grateful Patient program and how you can make a donation in honor of a caregiver.