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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

Meet our Nanny Angel of the Year 2015: Leigh Scholl

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Angels like Leigh are what set the Nanny Angel Network apart. NAN provides so much more than just childcare, our Angels are passionate and highly educated caregivers who go above and beyond to support families, and create a safe space where kids can just be kids.

Leigh has worked and volunteered with children since she was ten years old. Babysitting jobs evolved into volunteer positions with a local church classroom which turned into working at the ER of her local children’s hospital. Along with a background in education, Leigh received a BA in psychology, and a BScN. She’s currently a nurse in the Child & Family Program at VHA Home Health Care.

Leigh first discovered the Nanny Angel Network in 2014. Her three passions are healthcare, children, and volunteering so NAN could not have been a more perfect fit. She applied immediately, and was accepted and placed with a family.

A typical visit with her family begins with NAN’s famous Green Bag, filled with toys and games from the closet at the Nanny Angel Network head office. Leigh visits with a three-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, who loves crafts. Leigh likes to plan seasonal crafts to get the kids excited for holidays. Often times the kids will initiate medical play, where Leigh acts as the patient while the kids pretend to be doctors. Leigh explained “If they want to talk about cancer they know that I’m a safe person to talk to, but I never push them to talk about it.”

When asked about her role as a Nanny Angel, Leigh shared the responsibility she feels to ensure the children are made to feel safe, and have fun. “I support the kids on their terrifying roller coaster ride, offering answers when I can, and being a comforting presence the rest of the time.” While some days as a Nanny Angel can be difficult, it can also be incredibly rewarding, Leigh explains.

“I think the best experience would have to have been when my then 2-year-old looked up at me with big brown puppy-dog eyes and said to me, ‘I wuv you in my heart.’ That got me right in the feels!”

In an interview with the mother of the children Leigh visits, the mother shared the impact Leigh has had on her children. “Leigh, when she was younger, she would say “goodnight, sleepy angel” to her sisters growing up, and she does that with my kids, and so they say it to her. They don’t say it to us – they only say it to her! If she doesn’t say if first, then they’ll make a point of saying it and she has to say it back. So it’s really nice to see that they have their own thing together.” Having Leigh visit also provided the mother with some much needed time to rest. “When I was at work, it was nice to have one night where I could come home and not parent – and just sleep.”

NAN was excited to name Leigh our 2015 Nanny Angel of the Year for all of her hard work, passion, and dedication. She was presented with one of our Angel Wing Necklaces by NAN Board member Joyce Frustaglio on June 23rd. Thank you so much Leigh, for everything that you do for NAN and for mothers with cancer in your community.

The Nanny Angel Network could not be possible without people like Leigh volunteering their time out of their very busy schedules to provide the specialized care the children of mothers affected with cancer need. The Nanny Angels support the children’s development and provide a safe environment for discussion so that the children do not feel the need to suppress the numerous emotions they feel under the circumstances. Nanny Angels build relationships with their clients and genuinely care about their well-being. The kind of support they offer is extremely hard to find in the childcare market today, much less offered at no cost. This ensures that mother is not left without help when she is going through such a difficult time.

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Text: Mia Shulman      Photos: Omar Duragos, Nanny Angel Network