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A mother’s gift: Woman in cancer treatment receives mother’s milk for infant

A Fargo mother said the gift of 3,050 ounces of mother's milk from a Jamestown woman helped her find peace of mind during cancer treatment just weeks after giving birth.

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These three women played a role in helping Nicole Parrett, a Fargo woman who underwent chemotherapy recently, when she needed breast milk to feed her infant son. Pictured, from left, are Nicole Heinle, Parrett’s friend; Bonnie Dewald, Parrett’s mother, and Katie Eggl, the milk donor, with her own infant, Eli, 7 months. John M. Steiner / The Sun
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A Fargo mother said the gift of 3,050 ounces of mother’s milk from a Jamestown woman helped her find peace of mind during cancer treatment just weeks after giving birth.

Nicole Parrett, 31, of Fargo, said knowing her newborn son would have a healthy source of mother’s milk for the duration of her cancer treatment meant the world to her. She breast-fed her daughter to 17 months and it was important to not use formula with her newborn son, she said.

“I got to breast-feed Nolan until he was 9 weeks old because I had 1,000 ounces (of breast milk) pumped and saved but I had no plan after that,” Parrett said.

Mother’s milk has antibodies that help babies build immunities and fight off viruses and bacteria, according to the National Institutes of Health. Mother’s milk in the first six months gives babies a better chance of preventing allergies, infections and even sudden infant death syndrome.

It was just three days before Christmas in her seventh month of pregnancy when Parrett said she experienced chest pains. A chest scan discovered a large tumor in her chest that was removed by surgery just two weeks after Nolan was born on Feb. 10.

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Parrett said she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and started chemotherapy when Nolan was 9 weeks old. There were two treatments per month for four months, she said.

It’s a highly treatable cancer, and Parrett is considered cancer-free after completing chemotherapy, said her mother, Bonnie Dewald of Jamestown. Nicole’s main worry during treatment was not being able to breast-feed her baby, she said.

Friends and coworkers also provided housecleaning, prepared meals and started a GoFundMe account that has raised $7,700, Dewald said. It lessened the stress on the family while Parrett was in chemotherapy, Dewald said.

Parrett graduated from the University of Jamestown with a degree in nursing. She and her husband, Nathan, are emergency room nurses at Sanford Health in Fargo and also have a daughter, Norah, 2.

Nicole Heinle, Jamestown, a close friend of Parrett, is also a friend of Katie Eggl, Jamestown. The two have daughters in the same day care where they discussed Parrett’s situation.

Eggl said she had 8,000 ounces of breast milk in her freezer and that helping was the right thing to do.

“It's important to be giving fresh milk and I knew how much she was going to need it,” Eggl said.

Everything seemed to come together in a way that shows how God has a way of working things out, Heinle said. Having a steady, healthy supply of mother’s milk was what worried her most, she said.

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“Nicole said, ‘You have no idea how much less stress that is,’” Heinle said.

Parrett actually worked with Eggl during high school in the food service department at Jamestown Hospital. Eggl is now an occupational therapist at the Anne Carlsen Center in Jamestown.

Eggl and her husband, Matt, have three children, Ethan, 5, Elsie, 3, and Eli, 7 months. She said she produced more than enough milk during her pregnancies and helped others when she could.

Eggl said she scheduled her milk pumping every 3 hours for up to 5 total hours of pumping a day. She would freeze the excess for future use or to give to Parrett or other mothers, she said.

Eggl said this went on from while she was pregnant until five months after the birth of her son, Eli.

“I finally slept through a full night last week for the first time in seven and a half months,” Eggl said.

There is no breast milk bank in North Dakota other than for premature babies in Fargo, Eggl said. It’s important to know the milk is from someone in good health, she said.

“You have to be cautious about knowing the source,” Eggl said.

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Eggl said her reward was watching Parrett succeed in cancer treatment. It was reassuring to know the milk brought her peace of mind to better focus on healing, she said.

“It was nice to see this as one less stress for her to have to worry about throughout that time,” Eggl said.

Parrett completed her chemotherapy on July 31. She can resume nursing after Aug. 17, and has enough milk from Eggl until that time. Eggl went out of her way to help in a uniquely difficult situation, she said.

“I don't know what to do to thank Katie,” Parrett said. “My husband and I have talked about this so many times.”

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Nicole Parrett with her son Nolan while undergoing cancer treatment. Photo courtesy of Nicole Heinle.

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