Nicole “Nikki” 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, her parents Maureen and Jerry Schindler, 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 recovery room nurse in the post anesthesia care unit at South Shore Hospital. After a careful examination of the MRI results, Dr. Russell Kelly, 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 hospital colleagues came to see the family in the waiting room. One-by-one, nurses, doctors and other hospital co-workers surrounded the family, offering support and helping to make arrangements for Nikki’s transport to Boston Children’s Hospital for immediate surgery.
“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.”
After her brain surgery, Nikki had 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 chemo 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 has been inspired to increase awareness and help others dealing with pediatric cancer. Her family has chosen to make a gift to South Shore Health System Foundation to thank their caregivers.
“I want to spread awareness about childhood cancer and to help fight for better medications and treatments,” Nikki said. “I don’t want another kid to go through what I went through.”