For the Laskowski family of Harrisburg, their life journey took a sharp turn on Jan. 24.
That day, the family was celebrating their youngest son Colton's first birthday. It was an exciting celebration, but brought bittersweet memories of their oldest son Nicholas who died just 100 days after he was born.
Their middle son, 3-year-old Jackson, had a slight stomach ache the day of the party and by mid-afternoon became uncomfortable. Thinking it was just childhood constipation, and since it was a weekend, parents Maggie and Michael, called their pediatrician's office and were advised to take Jackson to the urgent care to be checked out.
Doctors did a X-ray and sent them to the emergency room at the University Carolinas Medical Center where Jackson had an ultrasound. Doctors then sent the family directly to Levine's Children's Hospital where Jackson had a CAT Scan that revealed a tumor in the liver, encompassing the entire abdominal area.
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At 2 a.m. the following morning, the family received the diagnosis of a Stage 4 liver cancer that had spread to both lungs, producing approximately 40 masses.
"I have always been a person of great faith, and learned very quickly in the short 100 days that my first son Nicholas was alive that in times of struggle and hardship, no one can do it alone. ... And I was no different," said Maggie Laskowski.
The day after the diagnosis, Jackson began treatment and has completed five of 10 rounds of chemotherapy. Along the way, friends have organized fundraisers including the sale of "Jackson's Journey" bracelets. They have donated gift cards and meals to help the family.
More procedures, out of state travel and other expenses will come.
Maggie's friend Jill Zimmerman of Harrisburg remembers the phrase "walk a mile in my shoes."
"I wouldn't even want to try on Maggie's shoes right now, but as her friend and her community, we will walk beside them and if necessary, we will carry them," she said.
Jackson has done very well with his chemotherapy, even better than what his doctors have anticipated and the family continues to hold onto the hope that he soon will be healed, said Laskowski.
Within the next few weeks, he will have a lung procedure and another CAT Scan. When he is cancer free in the lungs, he will require a liver transplant, followed by three rounds of chemotherapy to move into full recovery.
Due to insurance regulations, the transplant cannot be done in Charlotte but must be done at an approved hospital elsewhere in the country. "There is no telling when the organ will become available. There is so much up in the air, it is so hard to live day by day in this situation," said Laskowski.
The family is grateful to the community as they rally around them. "This is not my journey, it is Jackson's journey, and I am only here to tell his story. I am humbled that the life of my child, has touched and changed so many other lives. The fact that people are willing to travel this journey with us, is what inspires me every day to keep the hope," said Laskowski.