A proud mother-of-four has shared photos of her breastfeeding the baby who saved her life to praise her friend who nursed the infant while she battled cancer and went through chemotherapy.
Nikki Heying, 33, from Elizabeth Lake, California, had given birth to her fourth child Malcolm just six weeks before she was rushed back to hospital with preeclampsia. However a scan by chance picked up a mass in the mother-of-four’s chest and she was diagnosed with lymphoma as she held the newborn baby in her arms.
Panicking about her vulnerable little boy breastfeeding while she underwent chemotherapy, Nikki confided in a friend, Bec Nikodem, 37, about fearing he would lose his latch. Without hesitation, selfless mom-of-eight Bec offered to breastfeed the tot twice a week – all while nursing two of her own children and donating milk to other moms in need.
To avoid her milk drying up, Nikki bravely ‘pumped and dumped’ repeatedly throughout her illness – despite it taxing her body further while she battled through chemotherapy. After months of gruelling cancer treatment, Nikki was finally able to breastfeed her own baby herself. She has captured the moment in a series of emotional photos that she shared to raise awareness and encourage other mothers to donate their breast milk.
Nikki said: “I was just so incredibly thankful that Bec was willing to breastfeed Malcolm. It was absolutely beautiful – breathtaking. I can’t say enough about that. I’d just had Malcolm when I had to be readmitted into hospital for preeclampsia complications. He saved my life. They did a scan of my chest and found a 10cm mass growing around my heart. I’d had no symptoms of lymphoma. There’s a long list and I didn’t have a single one of them. If I hadn’t have had my baby and those complications, they might never have discovered the cancer until it was too late.”
After Nikki was initially tested and given a biopsy, she was told she had lymphoma – a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Nursing her baby as she was told the news, she nervously asked the doctor if she’d be able to continue breastfeeding little Malcolm through her treatment.
Nikki said: ‘When the obstetrician came in to see me, I was thinking she’d say, “Go ahead and get ready to leave.” But when she told me they’d found a large mass my stomach dropped – it was the last thing in the universe I was expecting. My husband and I had only been married for four months and between us have four kids together. There were terrifying thoughts – but then I thought, “No, I’m going to fight this”.
After receiving the heartbreaking diagnosis, the determined mom tackled cancer head on and was determined to keep up her milk supply until she’d had the all-clear – despite having no idea when that may be. Nikki underwent six months of chemotherapy, which contained chemicals that transfer into breast milk and are toxic. Every three hours, she was using a pump to collect her milk to ensure she kept producing it – but was reluctantly pouring it down the drain.
Little Malcolm was still drinking breast milk donated by other women, but by using a bottle, he risked losing his latch. Nikki said: “I switched my mind into a positive line of thinking, then my first question to the doctor was if I’d be able to continue breastfeeding. The cancer was non-operable in that location,” Nikki explained, “So when my oncologist did eventually tell me to stop breastfeeding, I asked him if it’d be possible to pump and dump to keep up my supply. He didn’t recommend it because chemotherapy is so taxing on your body already and there was a good chance I’d dry up anyway – but I would rather try and have it not succeed than not try at all.
Still anxious about her son’s latch, Nikki felt that milk from a bottle wasn’t enough. She worried their bond would suffer when she was well again if Malcolm forgot how to feed from her.
Confiding in another new mother, Bec, whose older children went to the same school as hers, Nikki was relieved when Bec offered to feed her baby for her. Nikki said: “Bec and I went through our pregnancies together and we talked all the time. She knew what I was going through. I knew that if I was going to be able to latch my son again he was going to have to remember how to do it. I needed to find someone to do this. She’s nursed other babies, including friends’ babies, and she offered. She was at my house and she asked if I wanted her to try. My son hadn’t latched in five days by this point and I was terrified he’d struggled. She came to my house after she dropped her kids at school in the morning once or twice a week for six months. I thought I would have to look away and that I’d cry, and I did cry, but it was tears of relief. I was just so relieved and happy it was working. There was a chance I’d be able to reach my goal of being able to nurse him again.”
After a gruelling end to the year, Nikki was given the all-clear in February 2019.