The Sunday Edition

The Nanny Angels care for the children of mothers with cancer

Audrey Guth, herself a cancer patient, created the Nanny Angel Network to provide a weekly block of free childcare for mothers with cancer. On the 10th anniversary of the founding of the NAN, we re-broadcast Alisa Siegel's 2013 documentary "Be There For Me," along with a follow-up with two of the women whose future was uncertain at the time.
The Nanny Angel Network arranges free child care to help take some of the pressure off mothers undergoing treatment for cancer. (Submitted by the Nanny Angel Network)
Listen33:18

This is an update to a story from 2013. Click here to see the original story.

In 2008, Audrey Guth was seated in a hospital chair receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer, when she saw something that took her breath away. Young women, in the chairs beside her, also receiving chemo, but with young children climbing all over them.

The women were patients and caregivers at one and the same time.

"I thought, how do they manage? How do they manage?" she said.

Guth is a compulsive do-er who runs her own private nanny agency. She decided that she might be in a unique position to help.

She enlisted a group of friends, created a board of directors, hired one person to run the new operation, and recruited volunteers. And the Nanny Angel Network — NAN — was born.

Carina was one of those people who came in, and was in the place of a family member, a good friend, a listening ear.- Susan, mother of four, on her Nanny Angel

It provides free child-care for mothers with cancer — women who are struggling every day to hold it together.

Some of them fear they'll lose their kids if they don't.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Nanny Angel Network. It now has chapters all over the Greater Toronto Area, and is about to launch one in Kingston, Ontario.

In the last 10 years, the Nanny Angels have helped more than 800 families. The organization has also expanded its mandate, to include providing support for families coping with bereavement.

In 2013, our producer Alisa Siegel profiled the Nanny Angel Network in her documentary "Be There For Me." She spoke to Susan, a single mother of four, and Tatiana, a single mother of three. Both women were undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

This week, Alisa visited both Tatiana and Susan for an update. Here is what they told her about what has happened in their lives since 2013.

SUSAN:  Recovery took a while — approximately 2 years to really recover to the minimum. But as a parent, recovery basically begins when you can move around. When it comes time for my annual checkup, I panic. Because the first thing that the doctors would say is, 'Because of your history, we have to check this.'

When she was sick, Susan wasn't sure whether she'd be able to see her kids grow up. Now, she's about to see her son get his driver's license. (Alisa Siegel/CBC)

TATIANA: A year ago, I finished my cancer treatment. I'm good, actually. The doctor told me, 'So now I don't need to see you, but you're going to have to do a mammogram every year until you're 75.' And I said, 'I'll take that.' (laughs)

SUSAN: I did not even know if I would be able to be there for my daughter's second birthday. The kids have grown up. Now I have a 16 year old, a 14 year old, a 10 year old and an eight year old. We have a lot of moments where we just hang out on the couch, and we watch a movie and we enjoy each others' company. That's our celebration.

TATIANA: My children are doing great. This year, they're going to be 11, 13 and 16. So, oh my God, driving school soon! They're my future, and I'm doing my best to teach them how to live and how to be a good person.

Nanny Angel Network just became part of my family. My new family. My oldest one, she does remember, because she was seven or eight at the time. My younger two, they remember the lady who came and played with them. She had a special backpack with toys, and I fully trusted her. And it was great for kids to have her.

SUSAN: Going through those moments ... just having someone say, "Call me, if you need something." You never know who is going to be in that place. Like Carina — Carina was one of those people who came in, and was in the place of a family member, a good friend, a listening ear. Carina — my nanny angel — we've kept in contact with one another. When we talk, it's like we never leave that moment. It's always that joy to see her and the kids love to see her.

I've gone back to work as an early childhood educator. I do a before and after school program. It is my passion and I just love being around children.

TATIANA: I'm working, still part time. I love my new job and love my new colleagues. I'm in accounting. I love numbers. Numbers don't lie, and you can control them because you know the sum always must add up. They don't talk back to me! I don't need to talk too much, and if it's two plus two, it's always four. It's never anything else. So, it's no maybe, or I don't know, but it's like yes or no, it's always clear.

Tatiana's kids painted this picture while their mother was undergoing treatment. It's titled 'Pink Ribbons.' (Submitted by Tatiana)

SUSAN: I had a mastectomy. It took a lot of time to get comfortable with my body. I still feel that numbness, I still feel that pain. The scar is there to look at. It takes time.

TATIANA: I cannot forget. I put the bra with the prosthetic on me every morning. It's not a memory, it's on. We call it plastic breast. Sometimes when the kids give me a hug, I say it's OK, don't squish my expensive breast! (laughs) It's okay. It's just a constant reminder. It's the stuff you cannot control. So I just live with that adjust and go on. I just take every day, what it brings. I go on. I consider myself lucky to be able to go on.

SUSAN:  The biggest surprise is just being here. My 16-year-old — I looked at him, and I'm like — I can't believe it. 16. 16. And just seeing him just grow up, and talk to him and has his voice changed! I laugh.

And all I can say is: thank you.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.