Sep 16 2012

Survivor Spotlight – Nikki Meredith

Nikki Meredith – By SCTA Volunteer Paul Knipler

Ah, summertime! Remembering what it was like and what it meant as a young person brings back fond memories and many smiles. No school, no cares, no worries; a whole life ahead of you and your friends.

But what if that life was interrupted by a spinal cord tumor? I wonder what kind of thoughts and fears would have gone through my mind if that were the case. What would my summertime have been like then?

This month’s SCT survivor gave me all the insight I needed, since that is her story. What she is doing with her summertime is something that all of us here at the SCTA website can be proud of, as well as recognize this young woman as someone special.

Nikki Meredith from Columbus , Georgia was 12 years old when she heard those dreadful words from the Doctor, “I’m sorry, you have a lesion, a tumor in your spinal canal and it needs to be removed. Your tumor seems to be hemorrhagic and it could rupture. If that happens, you may be paralyzed from the waist down.”

Actually, Nikki’s tumor was a myxopapillary ependymoma, Grade 1 and she was told it is quite rare especially since it was in her spine. Like most of us, she was at first shocked and then scared, the tears coming very easily. Her Mom was heartbroken and extremely worried. Of course, the first thing that came out of Nikki’s mouth was “Does this mean I have cancer?” Her neurosurgeon at that time was Dr. Marc Goldman, the best there is in Columbus , Georgia . He explained everything to Nikki and her Mom and made them feel comfortable with what was going on. Since he was not a specialist with children, he referred them to Dr. Andrew Reisner, a pediatric neurosurgeon in Atlanta .

In Nikki’s own words, “We loved Dr. Reisner! He’s been wonderful!” After the tumor was removed, the good news was that it was not cancerous and Nikki did not have to have chemo therapy or radiation treatments. Dr. Reisner said she came through her surgery “beautifully” and she has had a wonderful recovery.

Yet when Nikki thought back on the two years prior to this diagnosis and surgery, she remembered the pain she had from her tailbone down her left leg and eventually down her right leg. “It was horrible” she remembers, “and it got worse right up to my surgery.” Since her surgery, Nikki is happy to report that she has been pain free.

Nikki, in school at the time of her surgery, was worried that she would miss at least a month. Dr. Reisner told her she would be back in two weeks. Nikki was “…shocked. I thought there was no way that my back would be healed enough to go back to school with all of that stress. I was wrong! I was back in school in two weeks and everything went great. It sure made it easier to catch up with my school work!” Ah, the beauty of being young when everything heals much faster.

Nikki also reports that everyone has been so supportive; most of all her Mom, who Nikki loves “very much”. Even though Nikki has no brothers or sisters, she has a “very supportive” Aunt, Uncle and Grandparents. She also has her friends who, from the very start of Nikki’s illness, have been there for her.

Currently Nikki is going for follow up MRI’s every six months and her most recent one showed some fluid where the tumor was located. Her Dr. said it could develop into a cyst but it should not cause any problems unless pain develops, which is rare. Soon, the MRI’s should be only once a year according to Nikki. All in all, Nikki is doing well and getting on with her life.

Now a little bit about what Nikki has been doing during this summer vacation. By her own admission, ever since she was a little girl, Nikki has wanted to be a doctor or work in some facet of the medical profession. She reported that her SCT experience has helped her define exactly what she wants to do. She would like to become a radiologist or work in the OR in some capacity. So, this summer, Nikki is volunteering in her local hospital and loves every minute of it.

Her duties include bringing patients from their rooms or ICU to the radiology department and back, as well as bringing patients from the recovery area to ICU after surgery. She helps get pain pumps and IV pumps after they have been cleaned and serviced. She also helps change linens and pillow cases on the stretchers, and cleans them. After a patient is moved from the recovery room, she cleans the cords to the machines that the patient was hooked up to. “Recovery is my favorite day of volunteering. It’s so fun and so hands on,” she says.

In the surgery waiting room, Nikki transports patients to the holding room (pre-op area), pediatric recovery, and the discharge rooms. She says she “basically helps out with whatever is going on.” In Niki’s own words, “I really enjoy volunteering. I’m so glad that I decided to put in an application to do it, and doubly excited that I was chosen. This is really helping out with my choices of work in the healthcare field!!”

Volunteering at my local hospital was certainly not something that I would have chosen to do in the summer of my 12th year but then, SCT’s change people.

As Nikki says, “I think about what I’ve been through every single day. This experience has been a part of my life and there’s no way I would ever think about forgetting that. I have always been a very Christian person and have always cherished my life but having experienced this makes me cherish it that much more! The SCTA website has helped me by being able to share my experience with others. It’s also been a good place to hear about people going through something similar to me. It makes me feel good that I can help people and make them feel better. It also makes me feel good when they read my posts and then send positive replies to me.”

With the thought of helping other people in mind, I’m sure Nikki will be successful in any endeavor she undertakes in her life. Certainly, based of her SCT experience, and what she has shared here with us all at SCTA, she has a head start on fulfilling her dream of being a doctor; maybe even a neurosurgeon like Dr. Reisner.