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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: Cheryl

“I didn’t jump right away to calling it “cancer”. Initially, I talked [to my kids] about having a blood disorder, and that might have been more for me than them, I wasn’t quite ready to use the cancer word myself.”

Multiple myeloma: those are the words Cheryl, mother of three, did not want her children to associate with the idea of mom. After seeing her family doctor for fatigue and excruciating back pain that nearly lead to tears with movement, Cheryl was faced with a diagnosis that could change her and her family’s life significantly.

“I can do most things. But at the pace of 60% of what a normal person could do. Basically I operate like a 70-year-old. If you wanted to picture it, look at my mom, and I have about the get-up-and-go that she has.”

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Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that is very difficult to treat, and requiring different combinations of medications to manage. Because of this, Cheryl requires regular doctor appointments, and as a result of her many medications, has been in and out of hospitals for complications.

“I’m in constant treatment. I’ll do one thing until that stops working, and then they’ll switch me to something else, till they run out of things to switch me to. The treatment I’m on now results me in having very low immunity to anything […] over the holidays, I was in hospital for shingles, meningitis, and an intestinal infection. Last march, I was in hospital for a week with pneumonia, and a blood infection. I don’t just get a cold, I get in terrible situations. [It’s] eye opening to me in terms of just how unreliable my body has become. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

With three children, ages 12, 9, 5, Cheryl and her husband were struggling to balance everything from the medical appointments, working, and taking care of the family, all on their own.

“My daughter was going to a program 2 days a week, which was the only way during the initial stages of me getting really sick that I could even manage, and I was just trying to fit all my appointments on those 2 days. The other 3 days, I was basically lying around feeling crappy and useless.”

Living a distance away from family, and feeling the increasing burden of asking for help from friends, Cheryl was able to turn to the Nanny Angel Network (NAN) for support. NAN understands how vulnerable women can feel when asking for help, and strives to ensure that all mothers feel welcome.

“[It’s] like a sense of not being entirely alone – we don’t have a lot of family support that’s available on a regular basis, so that made it very nice, to feel like there was someone you could call. And also, initially, I was very concerned about finances, and the fact that this was available, free of charge, was a huge benefit. Having someone routinely is really beneficial because then you have this ray of hope […] that one day you’re going to have a couple of hours to go get groceries or something without dragging your kids with you.”

Once Nanny Angels were able to step in, not only was Cheryl able to find more time to focus on her health, but she was also able to spend more quality time with her family.

“During the summer, [NAN visits] coordinated frequently with the day that my 12-year-old had his baseball games, so I was able to actually go see some of his baseball games, because if I go to a game with the other two kids, then there’s no actually watching the game happening. So I was able to watch some of his games which was nice for both of us.”

Cheryl shared how isolated she felt living with a chronic illness. With a little over two years since her diagnosis, Cheryl is still finding that small gestures of kindness can go a long way.

“You know what, it gets a little old. It gets a little old in the second year. People want to think you’re just fine. And we just get so used to this kind of new normal. But last week we had someone out of the blue show up with a great plate of lasagna, and I was really kind of shocked at just how much I appreciated that. Having access to NAN is like that. Sure, we are managing on our own, but when someone cares enough to give of themselves just to make my life a little easier and add enjoyment to the lives of my kids, it is very special. It’s more than a few hours to catch up on some errands, or rest, or even spend one-on-one time with one of my kids. It’s a reminder that there is good in this world and that even if I can’t be there for my children there are others who will be.”

Cheryl is just one of many moms who NAN helps support through their cancer treatment.

This Mother’s Day, please consider supporting NAN in honour of a mother in your life, and help us change the lives of mothers living with cancer.

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Text & Photos: Nanny Angel Network

Blogging with Cancer

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Blogging is becoming a growing hobby or past-time of many people, regardless of age, interests, and experiences. With studies showing that there are positive social effects to blogging, and in blogging about an illness specifically, the team at the Nanny Angel Network was curious about the experience of mothers who blog during their cancer treatment. Is there a community? Does it provide mothers with cancer another form of social support? With these questions in mind, NAN talked to Renee Kaiman, a blogger at My So-Called Mommy Life. Renee is a blogger, a mother, and a cancer survivor, and has benefited from the Nanny Angel Network over the past year.

Renee began blogging long before she received her diagnosis of breast cancer. In fact, she first began blogging to share her experiences as a mother. “I started blogging when my daughter was 9 months old,” Renee told NAN, explaining that all the research that she did while pregnant led to her becoming the person that her friends turned to with their questions. “A few people suggested I start a blog,” Renee said, adding “I’m so glad I did!” After her cancer diagnosis, Renee made the conscious decision not to change the way she blogged because of the cancer. “My blogging changed in that my blog now includes posts about my treatment as well as life with and after cancer,” she explained, but at the same time, she made an effort to give her readers “the same blog that I did before I was diagnosed.”

Making the decision to disclose her diagnosis to her audience wasn’t an easy one for Renee. “I wasn’t quite sure how I would disclose my diagnosis to anyone,” Renee said. “My closest family and friends knew but I sat on how I would tell everyone else for a while.” Eventually, she made the decision to share her diagnosis on her blog in the hopes that everyone she knew would read it. “I wanted my news to come from me. I didn’t want it to be a broken telephone type situation or one that included whispers,” Renee explained. “I think it also was the right thing to do because I was young, only 33, and pretty much the first person in my social circles to receive this diagnosis.” On the 1st of April, 2015, while sitting in the waiting room for her first round of chemotherapy, a post called ‘When life hands you cancer’ went live on Renee’s blog.

Renee had another reason for wanting to share her diagnosis with her blogging audience. “I decided to share my experience to show that although cancer is scary it can happen to anyone,” Renee said, “I’ve shared a lot of personal experiences about cancer, and I have been contacted by many other young mothers with breast cancer who have read my blog and could relate to my words.” When she was first diagnosed, Renee attempted to find other young woman bloggers with cancer diagnoses, but didn’t have much luck. “I hope that other young woman will find the solace that I was looking for,” Renee said, emphasizing how much it means to her when woman with cancer reading her blog do reach out to her. “It reminds me that what I’m doing is helpful to others moms,” she said.

“Even though I was surrounded by so many supportive people, you don’t often sit down and discuss your fears. My blog has given me an outlet to share my deepest feelings with those who know me and those who don’t.”

Renee believes that her blog and Instagram both played significant roles in changing her experience of cancer. “The support I have received has been amazing and so many fellow bloggers have been so incredibly supportive of me,” Renee stated. “It gave me an outlet to share how I felt. Whether it was sharing my initial diagnosis, to the night before my double mastectomy, I was able to share and let people know how I was feeling,” Renee said, adding that it made her feel supported through the most difficult parts of her cancer treatment. “I always received amazing feedback which let me know I was doing the right thing.”

There was a final reason for Renee to continue blogging through her cancer treatment, and her choice to openly discuss her cancer treatment on her blog. “Part of me also blogged during my treatment so that if anything should ever happen to me…  my kids [would] know from my words how I really felt during this whole thing,” Renee said. Overall, she hopes the message people get from her blog is a positive one. “I’m a mom like most of my readers who got a shitty diagnosis,” Renee explains. “Instead of letting it ruin my life, I decided to face it head on and not let it dictate my life. Cancer will always be a part of who I am now, but it isn’t all that I am.”

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Renee Kaiman has been blogging at My So-Called Mommy Life since 2012. The 35-year-old mother of two is a breast cancer survivor, and a recent graduate from NAN’s Nanny Angels program. You can find her online at her blog, twitter, and Instagram.

Text: Jensine Jones      Photos: Nanny Angel Network
Sources: Journal of Health CommunicationCommunication ResearchHealth Blogging