On June 2, 2014, Ben and Jennifer Wiese welcomed Journey, a beautiful, healthy baby girl, into their family.
"We were excited to add to our family," Jennifer says. "We didn't find out the gender until birth. To have a little girl born into a family of three older brothers...everyone was so excited to have a little girl to love."
In her first two weeks of life, Journey was doing well and progressing like any normal infant.
"She was gaining weight and breastfeeding well, but around her two-week checkup we noticed her weight was starting to drop," Dr. Michael Wagnon, Shannon Clinic pediatrician says. "She came back to the office over the next two months and we tried different regimens, but she continued to lose weight."
Two weeks after her two-month checkup, Journey's parents noticed something wasn't quite right.
"Her belly started getting big and it was tight," Jennifer says. "When you're with someone every day, you don't notice the changes as much, but in the same day my mom, and the lady who was babysitting her mentioned the tightness in her stomach. I thought, 'if two people have noticed, I need to check into this.' We decided to take her into Dr. Wagnon's office."
After an initial exam, it was obvious to Dr. Wagnon that something serious was going on with his patient. He ordered an immediate x-ray of Journey's abdomen.
"When we came back from the x-ray, Dr. Wagnon didn't come into the room immediately," Jennifer recalls. "I could hear him outside talking on the phone and thought he was getting second opinions and figuring out a course of action. He came in the exam room and said, 'This is not good. We're going to admit Journey to the hospital right now.'"
The results of the x-ray showed Journey's liver was massively enlarged. The liver was so large, it filled her entire abdomen and was pushing against her skin, causing the tightness. The discovery of the enlarged liver was cause for emergency, and Journey was immediately admitted to the hospital. Soon after, the family received more news regarding their newborn daughter's condition. Dr. Wagnon had been in contact with specialists at Cook Children's in Fort Worth and Journey needed to be transferred.
"A sense of urgency kicks in," Dr. Wagnon says. "Without panicking, we have to inform the parents and let them know the best plan for care which, in Journey's case, meant transferring her to a higher-level facility equipped with the team she would need to help make her better."
Jennifer and Journey flew out a couple hours after being admitted to Shannon.
"Jennifer called me right after the appointment and we were very upset," Ben recalls. "We didn't know what was wrong with our baby. She flew out with Journey and I drove there that night. You just don't know what's going on, and all sorts of things are running through your head. It was a very, very emotional and trying time for us."
Upon arrival at Cook's, the team immediately started examining Journey to figure out the source of her condition. Early the next morning, a sonogram was ordered. Thirty minutes later, the team broke the news to the Wieses that their two-month-old daughter had cancer.
"We were shocked and devastated," Jennifer says. "We couldn't believe she had cancer. She was healthy when she was born and for something to happen like this, we just couldn't imagine. It was all so quick. We got there Thursday night, we found out Friday morning she had cancer, and by Saturday morning she had surgery to place a port and they took a biopsy of her tumor on the adrenal gland to confirm it was a neuroblastoma. It was the size of a golf ball. Sunday, she received her first round of chemotherapy. It was a whirlwind."
During the biopsy, the tumor was removed, but the cancer had spread to Journey's liver, causing the enlargement. She was placed on a three-month chemotherapy regimen to shrink her liver.
"Neuroblastoma is one of the more common childhood malignancies, but it is still very rare," Dr. Wagnon says. "Journey's case is the first one I've seen in my 14 years of practice at Shannon."
Over the next 15 days, the family balanced being separated with one child in the hospital and the other three at home.
"Thursday I was at work, getting ready to start the school year and getting the kids' supplies in order, and Sunday I've been told my newborn baby has cancer, I'm four hours away from my family and my little bitty baby has had surgery and is getting chemo—it was crazy," Jennifer says.
"When she started her chemo I wanted to be there the whole time, but it was very important for us to be there for our boys, Canon, Boston and Hudson, on the first day of school," Ben says. "I remember calling Jennifer and asking her how things were going and I remember her saying, 'She's sleeping like a baby here in my arms.' I was so happy and thankful she was doing what she was supposed to be doing—sleeping comfortably in her mom's arms. That's one memory that really hits my heart."
Over the course of the next three months, the Wiese family traveled back and forth to Cook's. Journey had to receive her treatment there due to her size and age.
"They only let us come home between for those shorts periods of time because the oncologist at Cook's had a good relationship with Dr. Wagnon," Jennifer says. "They knew we had a good hospital close by if something happened."
October 29, 2014, marked Journey's last day of chemo.
"We got messages on our way home and when we turned the corner to our house, there were signs and purple streamers lining the road," Ben and Jennifer recall. "When we got close to our gate, there were all of our friends, family and supporters cheering her on and welcoming her home. It was so wonderful to have everyone there after that last chemo. It was such a celebration."
Since chemotherapy, Journey goes back to Cook's for monthly checkups. She is tested to make sure her levels are normal and once a quarter a scan will make sure her cancer cells have not returned. Her last scan still showed some neuroblastoma cells in her liver, but they have become fewer in number. She is progressing exactly how her healthcare team expected and should not have any more chemo.
The Wiese family is very appreciative of all the support they received from Water Valley ISD and the community, people who placed "Pray for Journey" signs in their yards, and those who sold bracelets and had other fundraisers to raise awareness for childhood neuroblastoma research.
"It was very comforting to have all that support and know people were praying for us and that they loved our baby just like we do," they say. "When you don't have a sick child, you can't imagine all the need there is. We are so glad people in the past have given to Children's Miracle Network because Journey had what she needed when it mattered most. We encourage people to give—it will come back to you when you give and help others."
After all they have been through, the Wiese family is thankful their little miracle defeated cancer and is on her way to living a normal life.
"She has overcome so many obstacles and she remained a happy little baby and did everything she could to fight through cancer," they say. "She's brought so many people together. We've met so many people through her and we've embraced love from all around. We feel like she has opened so many eyes and hearts."