Your balm for 2020: The best things that happened to people in Toronto this year

Despite the constant gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic, good things continued to happen to people. So to cap off the year, we’re highlighting some positivity from readers from around the Greater Toronto Area.

Not everything was awful, just most things

Emma Bergman was a bright spot for her family in 2020. (Submitted by Stephanie Higgs)

We can all agree that 2020 was a terrible year. Shoot-it-into-space, toss-it-off-a-cliff, eradicate-it-from-your-memory-forever levels of bad.

But despite the constant gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic, good things continued to happen to people. Those stories might get lost in a sea of negativity, but they're still there — you just have to look for them.

So to cap off the year, we're highlighting some positivity from readers around the Greater Toronto Area. Enjoy.

Cancer-free in 2020

Charles and Barb Smith are seen here at the wedding of their daughter, Samantha. (Submitted by Charles Smith)

Barb Smith's journey started at the tail end of 2019, when the Pickering mother of three and grandmother of three was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

"When I found out that I had cancer, it didn't really sink in that I had it. The doctor just kept repeating himself, saying 'Did you hear me?'" she told CBC News.

"It's a really weird feeling to be told that you have cancer, so you're thinking 'How long do I have to live?'"

Thankfully, her doctor told her the cancer likely wouldn't be fatal — but she still had a long road ahead with surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. The pandemic only exacerbated those issues as enhanced health protocols meant Smith's husband, Charles, couldn't be with her during treatments.

But then later this year, the good news came. Smith's doctors told her she was cancer free. So what did that moment feel like?

"It's hard to put into words," she said. "I'm fortunate that I've got a good life ahead of me. I get to enjoy my husband, my children and grandchildren."

Charles is also beside himself over his wife's strength and resilience.

"She never complained about it, she just put her head down, walked into the wind and did her thing," he said. "She's so special to me."

A new addition to the family

Stephanie Higgs says 2020 has allowed her to continue to foster community and truly build relationships with family, friends and neighbours in new and creative ways. (Submitted by Stephanie Higgs)

Stephanie Higgs will get to remember 2020 as the year she became a mom, with the birth of her daughter, Emma Bergman. (Seriously, just look at how cute this kid is.)

Higgs says 2020 provided her family with an opportunity to find life's silver linings.

"While our entry into parenthood has been nothing like we expected, having the opportunity to spend all of our time bonding with this sweetheart, growing as a family and deepening our relationship has been beautiful," she said. 

The joy of cake

Melissa McWilliam is baking cakes for the Icing Smiles program. (Submitted by Melissa McWilliam)

Melissa McWilliam had a tough year. There was the pandemic, but she also lost her father, who died in August at the age of 90. But she found an outlet in something sweet: cake.

"It's been a very tough year and making/giving that cake really stands out as a thing that made me smile in a year when there's been precious little to smile about," she said.

The Oakville woman had been baking since childhood, starting in the kitchen alongside her mom (who is still "baking up a storm," she says).

So after years of talking about it, McWilliam signed up for a cake decorating class at Mohawk College in the spring.

"One of the reasons I wanted to take classes was to develop my decorating skills, so that I could bake cool cakes for kids through the Icing Smiles program," she said. "Icing Smiles matches volunteer bakers (both pros, and home bakers) with applicant families with kids coping with medical situations."

A first marathon

Rachel Berman ran her first (virtual) marathon last summer. (Submitted by Rachel Berman)

For 15 years, Rachel Berman has had the goal of running a marathon. In 2020, she finally did it.

"I've run four half marathons but the full marathon distance always seemed out of reach because of the time it takes for training and the many injuries I was always getting," she said.

That changed in 2020, when Berman, who was living in Ottawa for a stint, found she had a lot more time on her hands. She says she ran over 30 kilometres with her brother (who is a marathon runner) over Easter weekend. But she didn't stop there.

"I decided not to stop there and to train for something longer," she said. "It's always been a goal of mine and it felt good to work towards something concrete during a time of uncertainty."

In the end, she registered for the virtual Ottawa Marathon and raised $780 for Immigrant Women Services Ottawa. 

"Overall, it was one of my personal triumphs during a very strange summer."

Paying it forward

Dayo Kefentse and Chantelle Quow are working together on an internship program. (Submitted by Dayo Kefentse)

Business owners Dayo Kefentse and Chantelle Quow met at January's Barack Obama speaking event in Toronto and discovered they wanted to work together in some way to mentor people who needed a boost to get their careers going.

Then the pandemic hit, and the pair realized that work opportunities for young people were quickly starting to evaporate. 

So they decided to create an internship, starting with an international student named Nthabiseng Selelo who Kefentse says did an amazing job.

"We now have two interns from Centennial College and we're looking for more in 2021," she said. "We've grown and it's thanks to them, and each other."

Finding home

Farhana Shaheed bought her first home with her boyfriend this summer. (Submitted by Farhana Shaheed)

Farhana Shaheed's 2020 milestone was buying her first home with her boyfriend, in Halton. It's something she calls an "incredible adventure."

"Taking time to furnish the home and fill it with all the things we love has helped me feel lighter than I have in a very long time," she said. "I am incredibly fortunate."

Do you want to share your best thing of 2020? Let us know in the form below (your responses will remain confidential) or in the comments.


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