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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.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian cancer affects approximately 2,800 Canadians per year, and while all people with ovaries have some risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are several factors that can increase your risk. In honour of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Nanny Angel Network looks at some common risk factors, as well as what signs and symptoms you should look out for.

Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common form of the three types of ovarian cancer, representing upwards of 90% of all cases of ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer begins in the cells that cover the lining of the fallopian tube and the ovary, and it can be further divided into several, distinct sub-types: serious tumours (70% of cases), clear cell carcinoma (10-13% of cases), endometroid tumours, mucinous tumours (4% of cases), undifferentiated, and borderline ovarian tumours.

Germ cell ovarian cancer, which accounts for 5-10% of ovarian cancer cases, start from the cells from which eggs are formed (germ cells) and more often affects people in their 20s. Finally, sex cord stromal cell cancer represents less than 5% of all ovarian cancer diagnoses, and begins in the cells that hold the ovaries together, and is more likely to occur in people younger than 50. While the risk factors listed below are commonly known to increase the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer, the risk factors for the other types of ovarian cancer are less well known.

Risk for ovarian cancer increases if you have never given birth or have had difficulty conceiving, while it decreases if you have had gynecological surgery removing your fallopian tubes and/or ovaries. People with a history of endometriosis are also at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Endometriosis is a painful disorder in which the endometrium – tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus – grows outside of the uterus. People who have used estrogen hormone replacement therapy, particular those who have used it in the long-term and/or in large doses, are also at a higher risk. People who have used oral contraceptives, however, have a lowered risk.

The risk of developing cancer increases with age, with ovarian cancer being more common in people with ovaries aged 50-79. The age at which a person began, and stopped, menstruation is also a factor, with ovarian cancer occurring more often in people who began menstruating before age 12 or underwent menopause after age 52. It is also more common in Jewish people of Ashkenazi descent, as well as French Canadians of certain ancestries. As with all cancers, risk also increases with a family history of cancer, in particular a history of ovarian, breast, endometrial, or colorectal cancer. It also increases if you are a smoker.

Genetic mutations, such as the BRCA gene mutation, can also increase risk factor – the BRCA gene mutation is also associated with an increased risk factor of developing breast cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations are involved in most forms of hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. In addition to Ashkenazi Jewish people and French Canadians of certain ancestry, Icelandic and Dutch populations are also at an increased risk for having either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect, as there is no reliable screening test for this type of cancer. People experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer should visit their doctor, who will perform a complete pelvic exam, a transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound, and a CA-125 blood test. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include: increased abdominal size/persistent bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, pain in the pelvic or abdominal areas, and a change both/either the urgency or frequency of urination. Other, less common symptoms, include changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, and extreme fatigue. All of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are, unfortunately, often vague, and can be mistakenly attributed to other causes. However, if the symptoms are new, having started within the last year, persist more than three weeks, and occur frequently, it is important to see your doctor about them.

Once diagnosed, treatment for ovarian cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. For more information on ovarian cancer, including living with ovarian cancer, visit ovariancanada.org.

Sources: ovariancanada.org, mayoclinic.org, cancer.ca

Nanny Angel Michelle Donais

Meet Nanny Angel Michelle

Like the children she cares for, Michelle Donais has parents with cancer. She has witnessed firsthand just how painfully difficult it can be to deal with the illness and its treatments, along with day-to-day life, let alone caring for young children on top of it all.

Michelle has spent her life dedicating her free time to organizations benefiting children with cancer. She’s volunteered at summer camps for children with cancer, participated in fundraising events, and even plans to cycle Canada from coast to coast in order to raise awareness and funds for children with the disease. After learning about the Nanny Angel Network, Michelle submitted an application and was welcomed into the organization.

Michelle volunteers with a family that’s close to NAN’s heart. She looks after two young girls who recently lost their mother, Sherri. The parallels between their grief and Michelle’s own struggles as she cared for her own sick parents have brought her and the girls together.

“As Sherri’s cancer was progressing, I was also dealing with my own Mom’s cancer progression,” Michelle says. “I ended up moving back to my parent’s home for several months and wasn’t able to physically be with the girls because of the geography, so I arranged with their father to Skype with the girls as often as I could.”

“Their mother and my Mom shared many of the same symptoms and effects of the cancer and treatments, experiences in and out of the hospital, and their desire to be at home as their diseases advanced.” The similarities between their situations weren’t lost on the girls, either. They’d often ask Michelle questions about her own mother’s illness, which led to a dialogue about their feelings and concerns.

“They did ask me questions about my Mom and her illness, that I knew related to what Sherri was going through,” Michelle says. These questions included ‘Can your Mommy eat anything?’ (she had an NG tube, similar to their mother, and was able to eat very little), and ‘Where does she sleep?’ (in a hospital bed in the living room, also similar to their mother). “The training we were given from NAN helped me to answer them and also connect with them through our shared experiences,” Michelle says.

NAN used every resource possible to support Michelle and the family she cared for through the mother’s illness, treatment, and death. “The support from the NAN team has been tremendous. As Sherri’s disease progressed, the NAN team was incredible with providing us with various tools and resources to support the family,” Michelle says.

“Many years ago, I heard a quote that had a big impact on me: ‘No one can do anything about the quantity of life, but we all can do something about the quality.’ Being able to support Sherri during her illness, and provide her with much needed time for respite, while at the same time creating a fun environment for her kids, was meaningful and important to Sherri and her family. This has been a life changing experience for me, and I know that volunteering as a Nanny Angel has created a meaningful difference, not only for this family but also for myself. I’ve created a special bond with this family that I hope will last a lifetime.”

Volunteer Michelle with one of her NAN children, Hanora

Michelle with one of her NAN children, Hanora

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

8th Annual Chantal Millet Memorial Golf Tournament

The 8th annual Chantal Millet Memorial Golf Tournament was held Saturday, June 3rd at Pelham Hills Golf Club in Welland, Ontario. The Millet family began hosting the event in 2009 in honour of Chantal, following her four-year battle with breast cancer. Husband Ian and daughters Lauren and Andrea decided the best way to celebrate Chantal’s life would be an annual golf tournament where family and friends could gather and celebrate their memories of her.

In 2016, the Millet family decided to donate all funds raised through the tournament to the Nanny Angel Network, and we are thrilled that they chose to donate to NAN again this year! This year’s event raised an incredible $5,794! A huge thank you to the Millet Family for their generosity and support. NAN staff members Emily and Jensine were in attendance to speak to participants about NAN and to help out with the “sink the dinghy” game. The day was made all the more exciting by the fact that, for the first time in the 8 years of the tournament’s history, a golfer actually managed to get a ball into the dinghy. It was a wonderful day, and we are already looking forward to next year’s tournament!

“Chantal Millet was a fun loving, avid golfer whose idea of a good time on the golf course was taking way more shots than necessary, and always said “if you follow all the rules, you will miss all the fun”. The tournament has become a means for friends and family from all over Ontario and Quebec to gather together, remember their amazing friend and family member, all while raising money for charity. We are thrilled to partner with NAN as our exclusive charity for this year and the future.” – Lauren Millet

7th Annual Chantal Millet Memorial Golf Tournament

NAN Receives Generous Gift of $4,300

Saturday, July 23rd marked the 7th annual Chantal Millet Memorial Golf Tournament, hosted at Sparrow Lakes Golf Club in Welland Ontario. The Millet family began hosting the event in honour of Chantal, who succumbed to breast cancer after a four year battle. Husband Ian and daughters Lauren and Andrea decided the best way to honour Chantal would be an annual golf tournament where family and friends can gather and celebrate their memories of her.

This year’s event raised a total of $4,300 and all proceeds were donated to NAN! A big thank you to the Millet Family for their generosity and support. We look forward to continuing this wonderful partnership and working together more in the future. The day was full of fun and sun on the course followed by dinner and prizes. Our very own Emily was in attendance and all participants were sporting pink – which you know we love!

“Chantal Millet was a fun loving, avid golfer whose idea of a good time on the golf course was taking way more shots than necessary, and always said “if you follow all the rules, you will miss all the fun”. After just completing the 7th annual Chantal Millet Memorial Golf Tournament, the day has become a means for friends and family from all over Ontario and Quebec to gather together, remember their amazing friend and family member, all while raising money for charity. We are thrilled to partner with NAN as our exclusive charity for this year and the future.” – Lauren Millet

Introducing Children to STEM

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Educators emphasize the importance of introducing young children to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) early. However, for parents and nannies who don’t have a background in STEM, and for whom the days of grade school science experiments are long ago, the thought of introducing STEM concepts to young children can be quite daunting. Happily, engaging children in STEM while they are young is less about teaching equations and more about teaching how to problem solve!

Children are naturally inquisitive, as anyone who has endured a couple hundred rounds of ‘why? But why?’ can attest. STEM for young children is based on capturing the curious nature of children and teaching them how to reason it out independently. You don’t need to have a PhD in physics, biology, or mathematics to engage children in STEM based play. In fact, learning together can be half the fun!

Having children use reason, prediction, hypothesis, and problem solving to attempt to discover an answer to a question teaches critical thinking. It is easy to incorporate these skills into play, from activities that use chemical reactions, such as making elephant toothpaste, to nature walks that encourage children to explore their natural environment. Our Nanny Angels often incorporate STEM into the activities they do, through crafts and investigation of the natural world!
Encouraging children to form their own hypotheses about the natural world fosters their natural curiosity. When a child asks you why something works the way it does, ask them why they think it works that way. Once they’ve created their own hypothesis, you can help them put it to the test. Teaching STEM concepts can be as simple as walking through a forest with a child!

Aside from nature walks, experiments are another way to engage children, and are teachable through activities that children will absolutely love doing!

One classic experiment is the egg drop experiment. It is simple, and easy to adapt to any age group. The challenge is for the kids to design a contraption using various materials, usually recyclables, to protect an egg when it is dropped from a height. By designing a protective case for the egg and going through a trial and error process, children learn why their design might not have worked, and come up with ideas about what might work instead. Check out this website for a compete outline of the experiment. Beware… some eggs will have to be sacrificed in the name of science!!

Another classic, and a favourite amongst kids and Nanny Angels alike, is the explosive combo of baking soda and vinegar! This magically fizzy combo can be used in a variety of experiments, from film canister rockets to the classic volcano. Ana Dziengel at Babble Dabble Do has come up with a very cool version that uses the citric acid in lemons rather than vinegar to create tiny volcanos. She also uses dish soap and food colouring to make the reaction even more dramatic! You can read the complete instructions over on her blog.

For more ideas on how to engage children in STEM activities, be sure to follow our ‘Learn and Play’ board over on the Nanny Angel Network’s Pinterest.

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Text: Jensine Jones       Sources: Teach Preschool Natural Start

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

Relax & Colour

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Colouring books have been a favourite childhood activity for generations. Books often feature children’s favourite characters from television, movies, or books, as well as animals and other cute subjects. NAN’s Nanny Angels often use colouring books while working with children who are coping with a parent’s cancer. It is often during these quiet moments that a child will open up and feel safe to ask questions they are afraid to ask anyone else. Happily, Nanny Angels are specially trained to answer the difficult questions children have about their parent’s illness.

More recently, there has also been a huge trend towards colouring books for adults. The craze began in 2013 when Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford was asked by a British publishing house to create a colouring book for children based off her designs. Instead, she proposed a colouring book for adults, and Secret Garden soon became an international bestseller, followed by Enchanted Forest and Lost Ocean.

For children, colouring books are a great way to occupy their time. They also provide a number of developmental benefits, from fine motor skills to eye tracking and focusing. “When a child colours in set spaces… she must coordinate a complex set of skills,” wrote homeschool teacher Marilisa Sachteleben. However, some are less enthusiastic about children’s colouring books.

New York-based art therapist Nadia Jenefsky explained in an interview with Quartz that children are so creative that colouring books often hamper them, forcing them to conform to pre-set designs rather than stretching their innate creativity. “I don’t buy colouring books for my kids,” Jean Van’t Hul writes on her website, The Artful Parent. “I’d rather have them draw their own art than color in someone else’s.”

Whether you agree or disagree on the benefits of colouring books for children, the recent trend in adult colouring books has turned colouring into an activity that parents and children can both enjoy. Sitting down and colouring with your child is something that doesn’t take a lot of energy – perfect for a parent undergoing draining and extensive cancer treatments – and can be taken with you wherever you go. Besides being an excellent low-energy activity to do with your child, there are additional benefits for colouring for parents who are going through the immense stress of cancer treatments.

Though the American Art Therapy Association has cautioned that there is a difference between art therapy and art that is therapeutic, adult colouring books can be very relaxing for adults, and the organization has supported their use for pleasure and self-care. “People with a lot of anxiety respond really well to colouring books,” art therapist Jenefsky explained, “There are some choices involved – in terms of choosing what colours you’re gong to use and how you’re blending your colours – but there’s also a lot of structure.”

From the beautiful and delicate designs of Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom to the cheeky Color Me Swoon, with its images of Hollywood stars, the adult colouring book trend has produced a huge variety of colouring books. As an activity to do with your children when you don’t have much energy left or simply as a way to relax and unwind after treatment, adult colouring books are perfect for parents undergoing cancer treatments.

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Text: Jensine Jones
Sources: CBC Quartz The Artful Parent hubpages