'Is this really us?': Pediatric cancer nurse gets daughter as patient

Posted at 9:12 PM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 23:21:17-04

ROYAL OAK, Mich. (WXYZ) — Karen Jabczenski had two lives: Eight hours a day, five days a week, she was a nurse clinician, caring for children with cancer and other blood disorders at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak.

It's a tough but rewarding job Jabczenski says is her calling.

"To be able to take care of people during the toughest time of their life is great, it’s great I love it,” Jabczenski said.

Like many women, when her shift is over, her nurse "hat" switches to mom, enjoying her family and raising her two daughters. But three years ago, her two worlds collided in a devastating way.

"Her heart rate dropped, she became unresponsive. They rushed her in for a CAT scan, found the tumor and the bleed, she was close to herniating,” Jabczenski said.

Her 9-year-old daughter at the time was diagnosed with atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumors, or ATRT, a rare and fast growing tumor in the brain.

"Is this really us? Is this really me? I take care of specifically these types of kids and their families everyday, and it’s not like you feel like it couldn’t happen to you, but you would never imagine in a million years it was going to be you,” Jabczenski said.

Ava is now 12. She's endured several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and brain surgeries. Ava is being treated at the same office her mother works at, which is an added comfort Ava says makes her feel protected.

Admittedly, Jabczenski says it’s been a journey learning to separate her nurse instincts from just being Ava’s mom. Fighting the urge to check CAT scans and read charts.

Ultimately, she says this unexpected life turn has made her able to relate to the families she works with in a way she would have never anticipated.

“I want to shout like, I know what you’re going through,” Jabczenski said.

But the benefit is a two-way street, with Jabczenski saying she finds her strength through her patients.

“I think that’s why I’ve been so strong going through this because they taught me how to keep Ava strong and how to keep her brave,” Jabczenski said.

When asked about the days ahead, the pair said they celebrate every victory and just take it day by day.