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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

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

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