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The Hood Magazine

A Mother's Fight for Life: Twice

09/26/2017 12:53PM ● By Digital Media Director

By: Jessica Brovold, ‘Hood Magazine

For Janelle and Grant Van Riesen, making it halfway through their pregnancy was a milestone they didn’t think would mean so much. At their 20-week ultrasound, they found out everything looked great and they were having a baby girl.

Two weeks later, everything changed.

“At 22 weeks, my water broke unexpectedly,” said Janelle. “I went on strict bed rest. I had appointments on and off for about two weeks and started bleeding heavily just before 24 weeks.”

Most medical experts consider the age of viability to be about 24 weeks. The situation the Van Riesens were in wasn’t ideal. At just 26 weeks came their worst fear. Doctors had no choice but to perform an emergency cesarean section as little Maci’s heart rate was dropping fast. 

“I was very emotional and scared,” said Janelle. “I knew at 26 weeks, statistics weren’t great. I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I didn’t know if I would get to see my baby girl alive, or what our journey would be after that.”

Maci was born weighing 1 pound, 6.5 ounces. She was 11.5 inches long. Maci survived, but not without some hurdles. In her first year of life she underwent several surgeries and blood transfusions. During her first two years, she spent some time in the hospital dealing with respiratory issues relating to being born premature. Just when the Van Riesens thought they were out of the woods as Maci was onto living a fairly healthy life, they were dealt another blow. This time it was Janelle.

“A few months before Maci’s second birthday, I found a lump on my neck,” said Janelle. “After undergoing several tests and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

Janelle was in for a fight of her own and she knew she had pull through.

“I was devastated, I was in shock,” said Janelle through tears. “Maci had been so sick for the first two years. We finally had her healthy and then I got sick. I’m lying there fighting for my life and not fighting for her any more. I was scared I wasn’t going to be around. I wasn’t worried about her any more, I was worried about me not being there to be the mom to the child I had fought so hard for.”

Janelle’s husband Grant is a Sioux Falls firefighter. He’s in the daily business of helping people and knowing he couldn’t help his girls was devastating.

“I remember him saying how hard it was with Maci that he couldn’t fix it,” said Janelle. “It was the same when I got sick. He wanted to fix it, but he couldn’t. That was very hard for him. He felt like he couldn’t do enough.”

Janelle had the fight in her. Even after learning she still had remaining cancer cells after treatment and that she’d need a bone marrow transplant in Nebraska, she knew she had to keep fighting. When she got to Nebraska to start the next phase of treatment, she says what she found out was nothing short of a miracle.

“We did a repeat PET scan and bone marrow biopsy and doctors couldn’t find any cancer cells,” said Janelle.

Janelle has been cancer-free since September 2014. She has follow-up appointments every six months to make sure the cancer doesn’t return. For now, she tries to enjoy each moment with Maci who just started kindergarten.

“We celebrate a lot of little things,” said Janelle. “Just between her and I, we celebrate the milestones we both meet. We learn to take life one day at a time. You cherish every single day because you don’t know what the next day will bring.”

For others who find themselves in a trying time, Janelle has this advice to offer:

“Don’t give up hope. Find a support system,” said Janelle. “Find people who can be by your side and help you get through it. The friends and family by our side helping us on the days we didn’t think we couldn’t do it any more, they helped us to not give up and keep fighting.”