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Celebrating National Volunteer Week with NAN

Volunteer week celebration with our Nanny Angels
Celebrating with our Nanny Angels

Written by Rebecca Mangra

On Friday, April 12, at Toronto’s Piano Piano restaurant, the Nanny Angel Network (NAN) celebrated the most vital ingredient for NAN’s success: our volunteers. The dinner capped off National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration of volunteers and their positive impact on communities from all across Canada.

The evening provided an opportunity for volunteers to relax, dine and get to know one another. Amongst mouthfuls of mushroom cavatelli and Nutella tiramisu, there were rich conversations about the best way to make a homemade pizza and the subtle charm that Play-Doh has over children. The dinner strengthened a community of hardworking volunteers who all take time out of their busy schedules to help children understand and cope with their mother’s cancer.

“You are the heart of NAN. As my husband says, it is easy to write a cheque, but you do the heavy lifting. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the work that you do,” gushed Audrey Guth, NAN’s founder, in a heartfelt speech.

Awards were also given out to a few special volunteers. The Legacy Award is presented to a longstanding Nanny Angel who has provided outstanding service to NAN. This year’s recipient, Andrea, has put in over 681 hours of her time since she started 2013 and volunteered with over thirteen families. The Extra Mile Award is given to a volunteer who has gone above and beyond the duty of a Nanny Angel. The award was presented to two volunteers: Jayda and Cecile. Jayda has a strong connection to her community and brought a lot of families to NAN. Cecile, despite being a newcomer, has already donated 150 hours as a Nanny Angel.

The night was a successful celebration of how far NAN has come and the volunteers who continue to make the organization a solace for mothers with cancer. We hope to organize more events for our volunteers in the future. If you’d like to volunteer with NAN, please visit www.nannyangelnetwork.com/get-involved/.

Deanna’s Story

A Story about two boys and their Nanny Angel

Deanna with Sawyer and Fisher

Every week, Deanna Smith thoughtfully planned her visit to the home of two boys aged 11 and 6. She carefully considered the types of activities that each boy enjoys. One week, she brought cupcakes to be decorated because Fisher’s birthday was just a few days prior, and birdhouses to be painted because Sawyer loved arts and crafts projects. 

Sawyer and Fisher’s mom died of colon cancer and Deanna was there to see them through the toughest time of their lives.

“I liked being able to have fun with the children knowing that they were also enjoying the time we spent together,” says Deanna. “Most importantly, I enjoyed knowing that my visits made a difference in the family’s life,” she adds.

Deanna is one of many Nanny Angel Network volunteers who provide relief childcare for moms with cancer. Sadly, the boys’ mother succumbed to cancer a few weeks after Deanna began visiting the family. Through our program, Deanna continued to visit the family and provided relief childcare for Dad. 

“I developed a great relationship with the boys’ Dad and he enjoyed participating in many activities each week.  Sometimes he took the opportunity to do other things in the house when I visit,”says Deanna. . 

“After the boys’ mom passed, we used to talk about some of the special memories the children had of her during our visits,” said Deanna. “We created a memory box with special items and photos inside as ways to remind the boys of how much their mom loved them,” adds Deanna. 

Our Nanny Angels focus on supporting children through the challenges that come with the loss of a healthy mom, regardless of whether or not their mom recovers. The aim of each visit revolves around activities and conversations that will positively impact the children’s emotional and psychological development and lessen the impact of their mom’s cancer in their lives.         

“It’s fulfilling to be able to offer support, hope and encouragement when families need it the most,” says Deanna proudly. 

A Mom’s Story: Sameera

Written by Rebecca Mangra

“My life revolves around my daughter. I thought, ‘What’s next for her?’”

In a cream blazer over a red turtleneck, NAN mom Sameera greets us warmly into her apartment. She is not afraid to get right into our reason for being there. “I have to say what I observe. I have to tell my story,” she assures us.

Sameera is currently facing breast cancer while raising her eight-year-old daughter. After her diagnosis, she had a mastectomy. Her husband, who lives in India, visited on multiple occasions to give her support. But before her journey with cancer started, Sameera was a working mom and described her life then as a healthy one: no fast food and lots of exercise.

“Cancer doesn’t care who you are,” she tells us matter-of-factly.

Sameera describes herself as a modern and empowered woman. When you meet her, it is not hard to agree: she offers a confident handshake and a bright smile to each of the members of our team. She dotes on her daughter throughout the interview and towards the end, offers us all slices of maple cake. You would never believe that her cancer diagnosis left her numb for the first two months—and even then, the only thing that came to mind was her daughter. “My life revolves around my daughter. I thought, ‘What’s next for her?’”

The Nanny Angel Network (NAN) made a huge impact on her life by giving her the tools to explain what she was going through to her daughter. At first, she was scared to open up about her illness, but finally found the courage to do so after her surgery. “NAN opened my mind and empowered me to open up about my issues. They helped me to see that my daughter has to face the world and she needs the right information to do so.”

Her Nanny Angel, Lani, also alleviated a large amount of Sameera’s stress. Her daughter tells us that Lani offered her a chance to be joyful amid the chaos of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. She explains, “Lani is more of a friend. She’s someone I can play games or watch movies with.”

Finally, Sameera offers some firm advice for mothers dealing with cancer: “Nothing is more important than building your confidence to face the world. Make yourself so strong that your disease cannot control you.”

Sameera and our Child Life Specialist, Cassie.

Talking to Your Children About Cancer

Having conversations with children about cancer are never easy. That’s why for some families, cancer becomes the elephant in the room. Some parents choose not to speak about their diagnosis because they are concerned that these conversations will have a negative impact on their children. However, research shows that children who are given honest information in age appropriate language do much better in the long run. Children who are not given truthful information about a parent’s illness often experience anxiety, trust issues and behavioural problems can surface in adolescence and adulthood.

There are four common things that children often worry about when their mom has cancer.  Did I cause it? Can I catch it? Can I cure it? Who is going to take care of me if mom dies? These simple questions can easily be answered but they require open dialogue with the child and a sense of trust and security. Remember, it’s alright not to have all of the answers to the questions your children pose to you. They will understand.

Below is some information you should consider when deciding how to discuss your diagnosis with your children.

Children Ages 2 and under:

  • Are attune to changes in their routine and separation from their mother.
  • May not grasp the details of the illness however, the earlier they are able to name it as cancer, the better equipped they will be throughout your treatment and recovery.

If you are recovering from surgery or have limited mobility because of treatments, maintain proximity to your child so that he or she can still hear your voice so that you can reassure them.

Children Ages 3-5:

  • Have a basic understanding of what it means to be sick but may not understand what cancer is.
  • They often imagine the worst if they are not given an opportunity to talk about their feelings.

It is important to explain what cancer is in simple terms and assure the child that they didn’t do anything to cause it.

Children Ages 6-12:

  • Can understand more complex explanations of cancer.
  • They often believe what other children tell them. So, it is important to answer their questions truthfully to prevent misinformation.

It is important to reassure them that cancer is not contagious.

Children Ages 13-18:

  • Are beginning to think and act like adults and will understand more complexities about your diagnosis.
  • They may become angry, anxious, rebellious, or insecure. So, it is important to encourage your child to be open about their feelings.

Let them know that it is okay for them to be happy or have fun throughout your treatment. This will help maintain consistency and keep them engaged in activities they enjoy.

At the Nanny Angel Network (NAN) we have developed resources to help parents have conversations about cancer with their children of all ages. In addition, our Nanny Angels follow the parents’ lead when it comes to what they share with children and what language they use.  Our Nanny Angels are always prepared to openly and honestly communicate with the children they care for, creating safe spaces where children feel comfortable opening up and discussing their emotions and ask difficult questions. This in turn allows us to positively impact the long-term emotional and psychological development of these children.

If you are currently receiving service from NAN and would like to speak with your children about cancer, and you are not sure where to begin, please speak with your Nanny Angel. They will be able to help you.

A Network of Angels

Dolce Magazine featured Audrey Guth, Founder of the Nanny Angel Network in their Fall 2018 issue. Audrey speaks about her experience with cancer and what inspired her to create the Nanny Angel Network.

When someone tells you that you have cancer, it is a huge shock. That’s what happened to Audrey Guth. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, it rocked my world,” she says. “You know, everyone feels somewhat omnipotent, and you think, ‘It’s not going to be me.’ And yet, it was me.”

Thank you to Dolce Magazine for raising awareness of NAN.

Read the article.


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

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