'Nanny Angels' help single mother with cancer care for 4-year-old son
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2017 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 11, 2017 5:34PM EDT
Abeer Salim is fighting for her life. A single mother in the late stages of terminal cancer, she says her treatments and chemotherapy often leave her so drained that she cannot get out of bed, let alone do the one thing the brightens her day the most -- play with her young son.
For months now, she has relied on friends to watch four-year-old Mohamed as she battles to reclaim her health. But like many who juggle the roles of young mother and cancer patient, she has found her energy can only take her so far.
“On a 24-hour basis, (it’s) like we are taking care of each other,” Salim told CTV’s Peter Akman.
That was until she met a network of angels, or rather, the Nanny Angel Network (NAN).
The registered charity provides free in-home childcare for mothers who have been diagnosed with cancer, are undergoing palliative care, or are in need of relief during a time of bereavement. Nanny Angels volunteer their time so mothers can get much-needed rest, go to appointments, run errands, or simply have some time alone. Each mother receives between two and four hours per week.
NAN is currently assisting 90 mothers and their children in the Toronto area, but demand has been so strong that the not-for-profit organization is working to broaden its reach. Fourteen families are on a waiting list, according to NAN founder Audrey Guth. She says half in the program now are caring for children alone.
“Even though people say ‘what can I do to help you?’ You don’t feel good about saying, ‘You can walk my dog, do my laundry, cook my meals,’” she said. “Those are all the things that are so exhausting for a mom who is going through cancer.”
As a mother of four, a survivor of breast cancer, and the owner of a nanny service, Guth said the idea for NAN came to her naturally.
“I was sitting waiting for my treatment. I noticed a young mom in the waiting room with a child pulling her scarf off her bald head,” she said. “So it was the lightbulb moment that said ‘Oh, I think I can help this mom. I have a resource and I know my nannies would like to help and give back to the community.’”
Guth says the “nanny” part of NAN is a bit of a misnomer, since all of her volunteers have passed intensive grief and bereavement training.
One of the most difficult part for her clients, she say, is the “tremendous guilt” mothers with cancer often feel – giving up their role as the caregiver and allowing a stranger to care for their children.
Volunteer Kate Vandenborre spends four hours per week with Mohamed.
“We hang out, play games, we play Lego,” she said. “I teach him new things. He teaches me new things.”
Guth says these simple interactions can make a world of difference.
“If a mom has a mastectomy, she can’t even hug her child because she has had surgery,” she said. “These hours that she spends with the children give moms a chance to rest or to go to medical treatment without having to dress a child in the winter with a snowsuit. It takes so much energy to do that.”
Salim says hearing Mohamed’s boisterous laugh while under Vandenborre’s watchful eye is some of the best medicine she can get.
“I feel like his laugh and his happiness will cure me,” she said. “I am fighting. I am insisting Mohammed and I will beat it and I will be cured.”
With a report from CTV’s Peter Akman in Toronto