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Volunteering as a Student

 Smiling volunteer in NAN sweater

Faiza Ali first heard about the Nanny Angel Network (NAN) through her placement coordinator at the University of Guelph-Humber. Originally a student volunteer looking to fulfill her program requirements, Faiza has continued to volunteer with NAN even after completing her placement hours. “The support that this organization offered for me as a student, and now as a volunteer, is phenomenal,” Faiza said, when explaining why she decided to continue volunteering with NAN. She talked about how much the support of the NAN staff meant to her. “NAN opened my eyes to so many opportunities that I had never experienced before,” Faiza said, “from doing the Grief and Loss workshop with Andrea Warnick to going to universities to advocate for the organization, it has all been an incredible experience.”

In July of 2016, Faiza was matched with her NAN family, and has been visiting them ever since. “NAN matched me with my family based on location, school schedule, and comfort level,” Faiza explained. Before starting with her family, she was worried about how she would address difficult situations, such as what would happen if the mother’s condition worsened. “NAN came to the rescue and provided me with the mandatory grief and loss workshop,” Faiza said, “the staff at NAN also connect with me every week, allowing me to have a platform to talk about the visit and express any comments or concerns that I may have.”

For Faiza, spending time with her NAN kids is the best part of volunteering. “Within the first few weeks, I already felt like family, from the weekly activities to the birthday parties,” Faiza said, “the bond really makes me grateful to have discovered NAN.” Working with a family with two young children, Faiza has gotten to be a part of many of the family’s milestones, including the transition from baby talk to full sentences and the first day of school. “I love knowing that their childhood includes their fun Nanny Angel that comes to them every week with surprises, toys, and activities,” Faiza said. “It warms my heart, knowing that the kids are okay to be left alone with me while mom’s away. It makes me realize how much trust the entire family has built since the start of our journey together.” After having to take a month away from volunteering, Faiza returned to learn that the kids had been asking ‘how many more sleeps until Faiza comes back’. “It was just so nice to know that the kids are just as invested in our bond as I am,” Faiza said, “they’re literally the same to me as my own niece and nephew.”

Of course, the children are not the only ones benefiting from Faiza’s visits. Over the course of the past year, Faiza has seen first-hand the positive effects that having a Nanny Angel has on a mother with cancer. “I have nothing but the best things to say about her,” Faiza said of her NAN mom, “the love that she has for her family radiates from her no matter what her condition is after treatments. She’s the most selfless woman that I have ever met and knowing that I can be a part of her journey is nothing but amazing.” She said that being a part of the family’s cancer journey has made her realize the importance for moms to have the peace of mind of knowing that their children are in good hands. While volunteering, Faiza also learned the difference that having a few hours to catch up with sleep, or having a meal without worrying about what her kids are doing, makes for a mom with cancer. The most rewarding part of volunteering, Faiza said, is knowing that her family’s world is changing and, with her visits, they know that they are supported and loved. “I like to think about volunteering as not about saving the whole world through huge actions, but making a difference in a person’s world.”

For other students looking for volunteer experience, Faiza couldn’t recommend NAN enough. “The love that I have for this organization and the family that I’m with is indescribable,” she said, “it’s been the best experience of my life!” She emphasized the impact that Nanny Angel childcare volunteers make in the lives of everyone in the family that they visit, saying that for students wanting to make a difference, volunteering with NAN is an experience like no other. “Get out there, see these families, and create long-lasting memories,” Faiza said. “If you’re not volunteering for it, advocate. Talk to your friends and family, spread the word about NAN and all that it offers. You never know who could need it and not realize that it’s there for them.”

Students wanting to volunteer with the Nanny Angel Network must be at least 18 years old, and have a minimum of one year’s previous professional childcare experience. This can include experience such as student placements, working as a camp counsellor, or nannying. To learn more, email volunteer@nannyangelnetwork.com, or complete your application today by visiting nanapply.com.

A Mom’s Story: Beth

“One of the cutest things is that she kind of sees the Nanny Angel as a friend who is coming over to visit her. I’ve just kept it like that, I don’t call her a babysitter.  It’s like her special friend who is an adult. So, I think that makes her feel kind of special. It’ll be a sad day on our last Nanny Angel visit.”

Raising a 4-year-old is challenging no matter which way you cut it. Add on a cancer diagnosis and you’re on a whole different playing field. This is the reality that Beth and her husband Todd were forced to confront in 2015.

Beth was first diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2015 and underwent a mastectomy soon after. Surgery was followed by chemotherapy, chemotherapy by radiation, and radiation by more medication. “The biggest challenge was probably looking after my daughter, for sure,” Beth said.

During the first few months of treatment, Beth and Todd struggled to juggle an overwhelming number of doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy sessions, and medical decisions while still trying to maintain some normalcy for their daughter, Charlotte. Beth had to constantly arrange for family, friends, or paid help to look after Charlotte. “I could never let a day go by where there was nobody involved,” she said. One chemotherapy treatment was particularly bad because its side effects were so unpredictable. “It was a bit unsettling not knowing how bad I was going to feel with the next treatment or how much help I was going to need.”

When the Nanny Angel Network stepped in, taking care of Charlotte suddenly became one less thing Beth had to worry about. Having a Nanny Angel meant there was someone who Beth could consistently rely on to care for Charlotte – no questions asked or favours owed. Having a few extra hours each week meant that Beth could take the chance to sleep or read a book. As she moved farther along her recovery journey and regained strength, she joined an exercise class that helped her get back into shape and return to a more normal rhythm of life. One evening, Beth and Todd got to go out for dinner while the Nanny Angel was over – a rare opportunity they hadn’t had in a very long time.

While Beth has since recovered and graduated from the Nanny Angel Network’s services, her and Charlotte cherish the memories of their Nanny Angel – and the help she provided to their whole family.

Charlotte and her Nanny Angel, Jen

A Dad’s Story: Pawan

Father’s Day is bittersweet for many of our Nanny Angel Families. Fathers often carry a tremendous burden when their partner becomes ill. We would like to celebrate the important role father’s play in helping moms during the difficult time of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. For all of the fathers who find themselves in a situation that they could never have imagined, we acknowledge that you are often the glue that keeps your family together. You deserve this special day.

For some dads, this may be the first Father’s Day that they are celebrating without their children’s mom. One such dad is Pawan Sharma. When Pawan and his wife were introduced to the Nanny Angel Network, it was just after Pawan’s wife had been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their second daughter. The Nanny Angel Network was able to support Pawan and his family through his wife’s treatment and after she passed. The Sharma family holds a special place in the heart of the Nanny Angel Network family, and we’re so thankful that Pawan agreed to share his story.

The Nanny Angel Network came into my life as its name reflects, like an angel, like hope. It’s not easy to know your loved one is in pain and is going through so much. I’ll never forget the night I was waiting outside the operation theater, praying for two lives, my wife’s and our unborn daughter’s, to come through safely. You can’t even imagine that moment. It was so heavy for me and I felt helpless.  After my wife was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, my role as a husband and as a father totally changed. On one side I had my wife, who was fighting for her life and whom I promised before marriage that I would be there for, in her happiness and her sorrow, and on the other side, I had my little angel who was born premature. I was on an emotional roller coaster but I gathered my courage and cared for my wife until the last moment of her life.

I can’t even express my gratitude and thanks to the Nanny Angel Network. NAN provided moral support to my family and a financial gift when Audrey Guth was selected as part of TD Canada Trust’s Make Today Matter campaign. The Nanny Angels assured my wife that everything would be okay and my wife was able to take satisfaction from knowing that our kids were in good hands.

When my wife passed away, I was very down emotionally. Returning to work a couple weeks later seemed like a new challenge, I was scared and unsure of what would happen. When Audrey called and told me that she would stand beside me, I felt secure. She kept her promise and I returned to my job with no worries.

Michelle, our Nanny Angel, stepped in and cared for my kids as a mother would. She gave love, affection, and support to my kids when they needed that support the most and she even provided help for my mother, who was living with me and my daughters.

She came to my house everyday and gave a bath to the kids, fed them, read stories and allowed my mom to take breaks and relax. At that time my older daughter missed her mother a lot, and was experiencing many emotional difficulties. Life was not normal anymore, but our Nanny Angel supported us and became our savior.

My younger daughter knows nothing regarding our situation; she is still too young to understand what happened, but my older daughter went through a very emotional phase. She visited the hospital many times to see her mother before she passed, and asked so many questions. “Why is mom not coming home? When is she coming back?” After my wife’s death, she went through the grief phase, just like us. It’s so hard to even think of now, I am just so thankful to God that NAN came into our lives.

The Nanny Angels touched our lives and I hope and pray that they will touch many more in the future.

Pawan’s story has touched the hearts of those at the Nanny Angel Network and it is so uplifting to know the difference NAN is making in the lives of those experiencing such challenging and exhausting circumstances. Pawan and his daughters are one of many families who lives have been profoundly impacted by the presence of a Nanny Angel. This impact is exactly the kind of difference NAN aims to make in the lives of every family they serve.

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Text: Mia Shulman       Photo: Omar Duragos

A Mom’s Story: Heather

“I just feel like I’ve lost myself. I have nothing left that used to be me.  I can’t even walk anymore.  I just want my life back.”

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Heather had thought nothing of the tissue samples that were taken during her breast reduction surgery in December 2014.  But within a few weeks of her surgery, she got a call she’d never expected: she had breast cancer.  Her whole world was suddenly turned upside down.  Heather went from being a full-time worker and mother of 2 boys, Nathan and Jesse, to a full-time patient undergoing surgery and chemotherapy.

A double mastectomy left her unable to lift her hands and made everyday tasks difficult.  For months, Heather struggled through the recovery process and the start of an aggressive chemotherapy regimen without help.  Each day, she still got out of bed at 6:30am to wake up her 8 year old son Nathan for school.  Some days, she was so nauseous after getting up that she’d have to ask her older son Jesse to get Nathan out of bed.  But nothing was going to stop her from making sure that Nathan was properly cared for and supported.

One day at the hospital in March 2015, Heather came across a pamphlet for the Nanny Angel Network (NAN).  After being encouraged by a friend to contact the agency, Heather had two Nanny Angels looking after Nathan.

“The two Nanny Angels that I have are amazing.  They really are.  They’re really good.  And they’ll think ahead.  They’ll plan something for the next time.  Or they’ll bring something that they want to do.  So they’ve been really good.”  One of Nathan’s Nanny Angels found out that he wants to be a scientist when he grows up – so what better way to spend their time together than by doing science experiments?  Backyard volcanoes, lava lamps and rock collections soon ensued and Nathan couldn’t have had more fun doing it.  Nathan’s other Nanny Angel discovered different things he loved to do, like Lego, battleship and treasure hunts in the park.

Having the Nanny Angels take care of Nathan was a great source of relief for Heather.  “Before NAN came I was worried trying to find something for Nathan to do or go and trying to make arrangements for him when I’m really not well and not feeling up to it but still stressing over what was going to happen with him. When I had the Nanny Angels, they knew when to come and they would just come when I asked them and I didn’t have to stress. I didn’t have to worry so much. I knew Nathan would be okay and he’d be out playing and wouldn’t be watching me receive chemotherapy treatment.”  During the Nanny Angels visits, Heather is able to do the one thing she needs most: rest. Sometimes, that meant retreating to her bedroom to lie down.  Other times, when she was too weak, she would stay downstairs on the couch and quietly watch Nathan and the Nanny Angel playing together.

Nanny Angel Network’s services have been even more vital to Heather given her level of family support.  “My first chemo treatment, my sister was supposed to take me and the day before she canceled and said “I can’t do it.”  So I had to scramble to find a ride to the hospital and back.  And then that day I wasn’t feeling good, so I called my mom to see if she could bring McDonald’s over for Nathan because… I was just so sick and didn’t have time to make dinner.  She came in, brought him McDonald’s, looked at me and she wouldn’t stay. I asked her to stay to help me but she just said “I can’t” and left. They can’t deal with what’s happened to me. They can’t look at me.”

Throughout all of these disappointments, obstacles and challenges, one thing has kept Heather going: Nathan. “If I didn’t have him, I would be totally different. I think I probably would be crying, laying there doing nothing. But he doesn’t give me the opportunity.”  Nathan’s joyful and resilient spirit has brought humour into a difficult situation. With Heather’s hair starting to come back, she decided to buy a wig and wear it to pick him up from school one day. Noticing the wig, Nathan was quick to say, “Oh, Mommy you look really good.” Which was soon followed by “Can I pull it off?” Heather was simultaneously mortified and amused.

Heather’s battle with cancer is not over. But she is continuing to look for joy in her everyday life. “I say this to people, that, you may not understand, it’s this horrible thing we’re going through, but I’ve been lucky in some ways. We’ve had a lot of nice things happen that wouldn’t have happened. Like the nannies – we wouldn’t have met them. And Nathan enjoys them. He really does.”

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Text and Photos: Nanny Angel Network