Calling All Angels

When I was going through cancer treatment, I often thought about how much more difficult everything would be if we had a young child to take care of. Part of me wished we did have one, so I didn’t have to take on the added concern over possibly never being able to have children. But the other part of me felt that since I could barely take care of myself, I couldn’t imagine having to care for and worry about a small human being.

I have a huge admiration for young moms who are diagnosed with cancer. I have known them and witnessed their unbelievable strength, firsthand. It is such an unfair position to be in, and unfortunately, there are many women who find themselves in the very tricky situation of having to juggle being a mom and being a cancer patient.

For a lot of moms, especially those without a lot of family or financial support, this is an extremely challenging struggle, and one that causes added grief during an already overly stressful time.

There is a brilliant organization that was created to deal with this issue, based in Toronto, called the Nanny Angel Network. They provide free in-home child care to mothers who are undergoing cancer treatment by sending in volunteers who have a professional background working with and caring for children. These “Nanny Angels” want to find a meaningful way to give back to the community, and as a result, they make a huge difference in the lives of families who are greatly in need of help. People helping people. What is better than that?

So why am I blathering on about this, you might ask? Well, I have just started working with the Nanny Angel Network and have been tasked with recruiting new Nanny Angels and doing some outreach. Sadly, there are a lot of moms in and around the Toronto area who desperately need some relief, and there are not enough volunteers to meet that demand.

By now, you might be thinking, This is amazing! I am so touched! How do I help?!

I am very glad you asked that, kind reader!

If you live in or near any of the areas listed on this page, then chances are, we need your help. ASAP. You must have a minimum of one year of professional child care experience and be able to commit a mere 5 hours of your time per month. So if you’re a retired teacher, a youth social worker, a former camp counselor extraordinaire – then we need you. And you should volunteer. Because it’s a good thing to do. And will make a mom going through a rough time very, very happy. And you will make me happy. Everyone wins!

If you want to get involved, or know of a person/group who might want to help out, you can send an email to admin@nannyangelnetwork.com. And then, lucky you, you will get to correspond with me directly. Truly, the icing on the cake of this sales pitch, am I right?

So please, spread the word and let’s get this thing going. The more successful it is, the more likely it can someday expand to different areas and we can take over the country and then the WORLD, with Nanny Angels falling from the sky à la Marry Poppins (okay, maybe I am venturing into fantasy land a bit, but hey, you gotta think big).

A weekend at camp

Recently I had the opportunity to pretend I was a kid again and go to sleepover camp. Only this type of camp was a little different, because it was 100% female, no kids, booze-filled, and raised a ton of money for charity.

The “Health and Fitness Weekend” was in honour of Linda Lewis and all proceeds went directly to Wellspring. Linda’s twin sister, Leora, was one of the main organizers of the event and so generously invited me to come along. My sister accompanied me for the weekend and we had an amazing time, filled with delicious food, dance parties, new friends, and a few dozen mosquito bites (seriously… I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life).

When we first arrived at Camp Manitou, us city girls were giddy over the site of the glistening water and all the greenery. We signed in at registration and then wandered into the woods to search for our cabin. Our cabin happened to be down a small incline, which was just perfect for clumsy ol’ me (i.e. I may have slammed into a big tree trunk once or twice to prevent myself from tumbling down the hill). The cabin was large, but still cozy, with several requisite bunk-beds, naturally. Since there weren’t too many of us, no one had to sleep on a top bunk, which was just fine with me. I never liked top bunks. #scaredycat

We soon met our cabin-mate, Susan, who works with Wellspring. As far as having to share a cabin in the woods with a stranger, we majorly lucked out with Susan. We had some good bonding moments over chasing mosquitos and killing them throughout the cabin.

Our first lunch meal was delicious and nutritious, as was every meal the entire weekend. Obviously since my central concern is always “what can I eat/when can I eat/why aren’t we eating,” I was pretty thrilled. Hunger was most definitely not an issue.

The weekend was structured with a jam-packed schedule each day, filled with numerous activities ranging from seminars, to aerobics, to yoga, to hiking, to boat rides, to pretty much anything you’d ever want to do during a weekend in the country. You could choose to do whatever you wanted, or not to do anything at all, which was perfect. No camp counsellors yelling at you to jump in the freezing lake and plenty of time to just lounge and read and relax. In other words, camp for adults is pretty fabulous.

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Lisa LaFlamme (anchor of CTV National News) was the MC for the weekend, and provided a lot of entertainment while we sat and ate our meals and listened to speeches. She also hosted an auction, where a ton more money was raised for Wellspring. I so badly wanted to jump up and shout “TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!” for every item, but since my current unemployment status means I don’t have extra cash to burn, I stayed in my seat and watched the other ladies duke it out for the prizes.

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We had a later addition to our cabin, Eva, who also works for Wellspring. When Eva was settling into the cabin, we got to talking, and she mentioned that she couldn’t do too much activity because she’d just had surgery.

“I had reconstruction last month because I had breast cancer,” she said.

“Oh, cool, I had breast cancer too!” I replied.

Ding ding ding! An instant friendship was forged. We talked all about our experiences and where we were at now and all the gory details. It’s pretty special, the way in which a shared cancer diagnosis can immediately make you comfortable enough with someone to talk about your bowel movements. Seriously. Eva and I had the exact same chemo regimen, and so it only took about two seconds for us to start swapping war stories. Yep, I remember that. Oh yep, that happened to me too. Cancer bonding at its finest.

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On the Saturday evening after dinner, Eva got up and made a speech in front of everyone and shared her story. She was awesome, and of course I cried, and I imagine many others did as well. But the crying did not stop there, oh no. Next up was Nikki, Linda’s beautiful daughter, who shared a poem she had written while her mom was going through cancer treatment, before she passed away. Her poem was filled with love and rage and blew everyone away. There was definitely not a dry eye in the room at that point. Nothing like a cathartic, good group cry. We then each lit a candle and sat in silence, in memory of someone close to us.

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After releasing a lot of emotions and wiping away our tears, we made our way over to a different part of the camp, where a bonfire was happening, complete with a guitarist playing songs, and of course – S’MORES. I can’t remember the last time I had a s’more, but wow, that is seriously one genius combo. Kudos to whoever the heck invented those things. Unfortunately, the bugs got the better of us again that night, attacking our faces and scalps and every inch of our poor little bitten bodies, so we cut the night a bit short and headed back to the cabin. We brought back s’mores for Susan and Eva, who were staying in to avoid the bugs, and they were very excited by the unexpected midnight snack. Cabin buddies gotta have each other’s backs.

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The weekend eventually came to an end, and we packed up our stuff, said bye to new friends, and headed back to the city. Itchy, smelly, exhausted, relaxed and happy. And of course, like any summer camp kid, sad to be home and wishing camp never had to end.

*High-res photos all taken by Sarah Lever

 

Like me? Hate cancer? Read on.

Thanks everyone for all of your excitement over my last post. Indeed, it was happy news and I was glad to share it with all of you. In other happy news, I have just begun my final week of radiation. Now that my burn is progressing and getting more uncomfortable, I am very eager to say farewell to radiation and my daily hospital routine. The next few weeks will be my “recovery” period, which I’m very much looking forward to, since I haven’t really had one of those since all of this began. I am feeling quite exhausted (which has been exacerbated by not having a functional A/C unit during an unfortunate heat wave), so it will be nice to have some time to relax and enjoy, without the familiar looming of a new phase of treatment quickly approaching.

One thing I am looking forward to is the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers 60KM walk in September. This walk benefits research, clinical improvements, and survivorship initiatives at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, which is where I have been receiving my treatment and care. The folks at Princess Margaret do amazing things with the money raised from this walk. As someone who has personally benefited from these amazing things, it is important for me to try to give back.

There are many things that are needed to facilitate cancer research initiatives, but the main thing that’s needed? Money. Lots of money. And maybe you have some money. And maybe you’re angry that young women like me are getting breast cancer. Or maybe you’re angry that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, meaning you will likely be closely connected to someone who has to deal with this craptastic disease. Maybe you want to play some small part in fighting back and making a difference. Maybe you want to pat yourself on the back, knowing you could be helping to improve or even save the lives of your friends, your sisters, your daughters. Me. You.

Did my guilt trip work there? Excellent. Now it’s time to pay up.

Everyone who participates in the 2-day walk has to raise a minimum of $2000. Obviously I’d like to raise even more than that. I’d like to raise a million. A trillion. A centillion. But we’ll start small. For now.

If you’d like to donate, you can do so on my personal page by clicking this link. Click the “donate online now” button, and follow the instructions. Anything you can give, big or small, is very appreciated. (But obviously bigger is better. Always better.)

(You can also check out my husband’s page and if you are his friend or family member, or a simple admirer, please donate to his page as he needs to raise the funds as well.)

Usually I really don’t like asking people for money. It makes me a bit uncomfortable. But this year, I have no problem with it. We can all play a small part in fighting cancer. I tried fighting it by torturing my body for the good part of a year. You can try fighting it by throwing a bit of cash at the problem.

If you ask me, I’d say you got the better deal.

The beginning of the Weekend walk last year. Waiting to hear my cancer diagnosis, but still managing to smile for the camera.
The beginning of the Weekend walk last year. One of the last photos taken of me pre-cancer diagnosis.