“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.”
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.”
Text and Photos: Nanny Angel Network