TOWN OF TONAWANDA, NY - A Town of Tonawanda family is balancing the ultimate highs of adoption and pregnancy, with the tragic timing of a devastating diagnosis.
Kim and Phil Vaillancourt have been married 15 years. Their bond is one others look at, and admire.
"You say you want to get married to marry your best friend, that is Kim and Phil," said Meghan Eisenhauer, the youngest of Kim's three sisters.
As their children, 12-year-old Ryan and 11-year-old Hailey, got older they knew they had room in their hearts for more.
Three years ago the Vaillancourts began to foster, through Gateway-Longview, three sisters who came from a troubled home. Kamila, 10, Josie, 7, and Chalie, 6, immediately felt like part of the family and found safe have with the Vaillancourts, which was especially important for Josie, who was born without any arms or legs.
On December 23, 2015, the Vaillancourts officially adopted the three girls. The family of four was now a family of seven, and they were preparing to be a family of eight. Yes, Kim was 20 weeks pregnant. It was a surprise pregnancy, but also welcomed.
Two days after the adoption was Christmas, which should've been a day of celebration but it wasn't.
"She usually deals with headaches, but this one was different than most," said Phil.
On December 27, Kim was checked out at a hospital, where doctors delivered devastating news. They found two brain tumors- one on the right frontal lobe, the other on the base of the brain. It's a rare and aggressive cancer called Glioblastoma. Roswell Park Cancer Institute Neuro-Oncologist Dr. Ajay Abad said the tumors were growing so quickly, Kim may have had only weeks, if not days, to live.
"If it wasn't for the baby, she probably would've never gone to the hospital. With her severe headache and nausea and she would've laid in bed thinking it was the flu, and she would've possibly not been here today," said Phil. "We definitely feel that God put that baby in her for a reason; pretty much to save her life."
It was less than one week after one of the happiest days of her life- the adoption day- when Kim underwent emergency surgery at Buffalo General Medical Center. The tumors were successfully removed, but it's the cancer that they can't see that's still concerning.
"In some cases we'll see the tumor grow back in a span of 8 to 12 weeks," explained Dr. Abad.
The course of treatment to prevent the cancer from coming back for most patients is radiation and chemotherapy. But Kim isn't most patients, because her unborn child is her first priority.
"The baby gave me a chance. I've got to give baby a chance," said Kim.
Dr. Abad is confident the team at Roswell can shepherd Kim to reach her goal of delivering her baby. She'll undergo an MRI every two weeks to watch for more tumors. She won't start chemotherapy and radiation until a few weeks after the baby is born.
"It is sort of a race against time," said Dr. Abad.
It's a cancer that doctors say will grow back and will claim her life. In rare cases, patients can live 10 to 20 years, but the life expectancy for a person with Kim's grade of Glioblastoma, Grade 4- the most serious, is just more than one year. It's only 6 to 8 months for those without treatment.
"I don't want to leave him with six kids and one of them being super sick. He's trying to take care of so many kids, so whatever I can do, I'm going to do it," said Kim about putting her unborn baby's health before her own.
Phil is now embracing his new role, and preparing to be a single father, with incredible strength. He's taking on the things Kim used to do as a stay-at-home mom- feeding the kids, homeschooling two of them, brushing their hair, cleaning, paying the bills- he also takes care of Kim, and works full-time to support the growing family on one paycheck. He is a senior maintenance worker in the Town of Tonawanda's wastewater treatment plant.
"I've never seen anybody better. He has not left my side. He's helped me with stuff that men don't do," said Kim. "He doesn't leave me. He's with me all the time."
They're hoping their love and faith will get them through as it's only going to get harder after the baby arrives.
"I think most of us who are parents know that those first couple of months (with a newborn) are hellish enough without all of these other complications, so it's going to be tough. There's no question about that," said Dr. Abad.
The support they've already seen from their families and the community has been overwhelming.
"People are just coming together and they're creating this whole support family for Kim and Phil and the kids and for us and it's just amazing," said Eisenhauer.
Even the oldest kids, Ryan and Hailey, are taking on more chores and trying to help, as they still try to understand what's happening to their mom.
"I know it's happening for a reason. I just don't know what the reason is," said Ryan.
The family is now praying for a miracle- that Kim is given more time.
"I want to see my kids get married. I want to see them graduate. I want to see them go to college. The big stuff," Kim said.
Kim prays for the baby, due May 16th. They've already chosen his name.
"Wyatt Eli. Which by my understanding means 'Brave Little Warrior- Sent By God,'" said Kim.
She prays for how her children will remember her.
"Just that I love them. That's it. I'd do anything for them. Any single one of them."
She prays for peace.
"I'm in one of two places. I either get to stay with Phil and the kids and live a long life. Or I get to go home and be with Jesus. I'm ok. He's the one that's stuck holding everything and trying to juggle all of this craziness," said Kim.
Kim's last two post-surgery brain scans showed she is cancer free. She'll have an MRI every two weeks until the baby is born. The longer the cancer stays away, the longer she can carry the baby.
The family is simply asking for one thing at this time: prayers. However, their needs are great, and will continue to be in the future. Family friend, Jenna Koch, has set up a Go Fund Me account for the Vaillancourts. Click here for the Go Fund Me site
Donations in the form of checks can be made payable to Phil & Kim Vaillancourt and can be sent here:
Stay Strong Kim
c/o Jenna Koch
431 Adam St.
Tonawanda, NY 14150
Jenna Koch is organizing a Euchre Tournament as a fundraiser for the family. It's planned for April 24 from 1 to 7 pm at the Broundshidle Post 205 at 3354 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at door, and Euchre players must register by April 22nd for $30. Please call Jenna at 716-946-5753 for more information.
The Vaillancourt Family has set up an account at First Niagara Bank.
The account is:
Any interested donor can go to a First Niagara branch and depositing money in the name of Vaillancourt Benefit