Kasia Kowalowka thought she had faced her biggest battle yet. And beaten it. But two months after one health crisis was over, Ms. Kowalowka is fighting for her life again.
Her trouble started last year. The young Invermere mother, aged 22, began experiencing pain in her arm and shoulder. Her doctor told her it was tendinitis, but the pain kept getting worse. One day at work she felt an electric shock charge through her body and then found she could not lift her arm. A coworker saw that her whole arm was swollen and took her to the hospital. While the Xray showed nothing was wrong, she was still in agony. She went back to her doctor again, but nothing new was uncovered.
“It was so painful … I cried most nights going to bed,” she said. “I was in so much pain, they were giving me morphine.”
Five or six months later, and still aching, she was on her way to work another day when she slipped on some ice and popped her shoulder. After her shift she walked to the hospital to ask them to put her shoulder back in place. The hospital took an Xray and spotted something unusual.
A couple doctors were pulled in to look at the results.
“I heard a doctor say ‘that was the strangest thing I’d ever seen’.”
They sent her to Cranbrook for a CT scan where they uncovered the source of her incredible discomfort.
“Hardest thing in life was to be given a box of tissues and told you have cancer,” she recalled.
It was osteosarcoma cancer (cancer of the bone). She underwent multiple surgeries. This past January, Ms. Kowalowka was finally in remission, and was ready to live a normal life again. But then in March, she got very sick. She went to the hospital, where she was given anti-nausea medication and sent home. After being home from work for a week and still not well, she knew she needed to seek out further help.
“I knew something was wrong. I went back and demanded help,” she said. “They put me in an ambulance to Cranbrook.”
In Cranbrook, they found that she was in the early stages of liver failure. And her gall bladder was inflamed. And it appeared her stomach was not digesting properly. After a CT scan, the puzzle was solved. Her heart was failing, and that was leading to her other organs shutting down. Her heart is now functioning at only 20 per cent of normal.
“I was dying,” she said. “There was nothing more Cranbrook could do to save my life.”
She was airlifted by STARS to Foothills Hospital in Calgary, where she spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit fighting for her life.
“I almost didn’t make it,” she shared.
But she made it out of ICU and spent two more weeks in the hospital before she was released. However, she is unable to return to Invermere because she is quite sick and needs to stay near the specialists in Calgary. To add to the trauma, Ms. Kowalowka is unable to be on the heart transplant list until she is five years cancer-free. Doctors have told her heart failures never gets better, they only ever get worse. But Ms. Kowalowka chooses to cling to hope.
“I believe in miracles,” she said.
She has faith, because she has faced hard things before and made it out the other side. When she was 17, she met a guy. Jon was her first love, her first boyfriend, her first everything. They got pregnant, and she contemplated getting an abortion. Then on September 19th, 2013, the unexpected happened.
“He woke me up and said ‘I’m going to work’. One hour later – an hour after he walked out the door – he died in a car accident.”
She decided to keep the baby. Her daughter Daniela is now almost five years old, and Ms. Kowalowka says through all of this, it is love that keeps her going.
“Love for my daughter, love for my family, love for my friends,” Ms. Kowalowka summed up.
Her daughter is living with her grandmother in Calgary right now, and Ms. Kowalowka is bouncing between living with a few relatives and friends. She was on disability funding in B.C. because of her cancer. However, since she has now been out of the province for more than 30 days, that funding has been cut off. Because she is not an Alberta resident, that province will not support her financially either. Her sister has started a GoFundMe to help her through this time. To support Ms. Kowalowka, go to www.gofundme.com and search ‘help kasia overcome her second battle!’.