Photo © Courtesy of Nanny Angel Network
Cancer touches the lives of so many Canadians, but its impact is not felt equally. Mothers are society’s caregivers, but when they are diagnosed with cancer, they suddenly find themselves in need of care. Forced to choose between their own care and taking care of their families, moms too often sacrifice themselves.
In 2009, Toronto-based business owner and mother Audrey Guth was diagnosed with breast cancer. While receiving treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Audrey couldn’t believe the number of women who had no choice but to bring their young children to their medical appointments. Sitting next to her one day was a frail young woman whose toddler was fussing on her knee. Audrey saw tears fall upon the young mother’s sunken cheeks. She thought to herself, what this woman needs right now is time to rest and recuperate, but how will that ever be possible with a young child at home?
Having run a nanny agency for 20 years, Audrey realized she could leverage her expertise and make a difference in many moms’ lives with cancer. By engaging a network of volunteer Nanny Angels, Audrey would give moms the freedom to attend treatments without their children and time to rest when they got home. Nanny Angel Network (NAN) was born.
Over time, Audrey realized childcare was not enough. Having lost her own father when she was 12 years old, she understood that kids needed the tools to cope with their parent’s illness and, in some cases, death. Research shows that children exposed to the long-term illness or death of a parent before the age of 18 have a 50 per cent higher incidence of mental health issues. Audrey knew that NAN’s mission needed to expand and provide mothers with the necessary language and support to talk to their kids about their illness. “Kids are resilient, but they need to be able to talk about their feelings if they are to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults.”
NAN’s services fill an important gap in cancer care and are critical for those families with a limited support network. In 2018, Melodie was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer and given three years to live. “My first thought was my three beautiful children and everything I would miss in their lives.” But Melodie’s worries went further than that for her youngest child. Matthew has Down Syndrome and Autism, is non-verbal, and has significant cognitive delays, “I’m his primary caregiver, who would be able to look after him while I went through my treatments?” With family unable to help and financial resources already stretched, Melodie was scared. She had been turned down by childcare agencies in the past who were unable to take care of Matthew, and she was expecting the same response from NAN. But NAN paired Melodie’s family with a Nanny Angel that had experience working with special needs children. “From the first moment I met our Nanny Angel I knew she was the perfect fit. She immediately went over to Matthew and engaged with him. He smiled at her, and as they say, the rest is history.”
“NAN helped our family when we were at our lowest point. The difference NAN makes is immeasurable.”
For NAN families, the arrival of COVID-19 compounded the difficulties they already faced. With immunocompromised moms avoiding activities like grocery shopping that would expose them to the virus, NAN partnered with local caterers and has provided over 10,000 healthy, nutritious meals. Nanny Angel visits went online, and NAN created a Homework Club, providing homework buddies to help guide, encourage, and problem-solve so that kids could maintain a school routine while working from home. NAN’s summer camp program, which offers a financial subsidy so families with cancer can afford to send their kids to camp, also moved online. Kids received a weekly Camp in a Box package with fun crafts and activities, and Camp Angels engaged kids in virtual camp for two hours each week.
“This year has been one of the most challenging years for our organization. But what we learned is that there are so many more things we can do to help families living with cancer.”
Faced with the pandemic, many of us have been looking for ways to give back. NAN hopes to tap into that spirit of goodwill so that moms like Melodie can continue to get the support they need, and their children can focus on just being kids.
Donate today at nannyangelnetwork.com/GlobalHeroes to help lessen the impact of cancer on families.
If you are a parent living with cancer and have children under 16, or if you are a parent or guardian of a child who has lost a parent to cancer, NAN is here to help. NAN currently operates in the GTA and Kingston, and plans are underway to expand to Hamilton and Barrie in 2021. To request your Nanny Angel, visit nannyangelnetwork.com/request-a-nanny-angel, or to apply to become a volunteer, visit nannyangelnetwork.com/apply
We help lessen the impact of cancer on families. Free, specialized, in-home child care resources for mothers with cancer.