With a mission to lessen cancer’s devastating impact on families, the Nanny Angel Network (NAN) was recently awarded the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize’s grand prize of $100,000.
The C3 Prize is a global challenge that aims to address the complexities of living with cancer by funding the best ideas in cancer care beyond medicine.
“We won the prestigious award because we’re innovative,” said Audrey Guth, NAN’s founder. “When you’re treating cancer, it’s not just a tumour. You need a dose of humanity, you need to treat the family.”
Over the years, Guth’s work has been recognized by L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth. She is an Israel Cancer Research Fund Women of Action honouree, as well as a CNN Hero. As a cancer survivor herself and mother of four, Guth found that there was a lack of parenting support for mothers who were suffering from cancer. So she founded NAN in 2009.
Guth’s pivotal idea came to her while she was waiting for her own treatment. “Sitting next to me was a young mom who looked sallow, tiny and unwell,” said Guth. “She had a toddler who was climbing on her, using her as a jungle gym, and suddenly she reached up and pulled the scarf off that was covering her bald head. Tears welled up in her eyes. As a fixer, I said to myself, I can help her.”
At the time, Guth was the owner of a nanny agency and used her resources to help.
“If a mom needed us, she would call, so she wouldn’t have to shlep her kids out in the middle of winter or miss appointments – because we know if we are faced with a choice in leaving a sick kid at home or going to your own treatment or not being able to get to child care, you are going to have the issue of missing appointments and not getting well,” explained Guth.
“We did that for four or five years and then CNN came along and it put us on a world stage. That’s when things started to change – we had donations coming in and we grew.”
NAN volunteers are teachers, early childhood educators, social workers, nurses, professional nannies and students in education and medical programs.
“We hired a child life specialist and we built a program around supporting children through grief. When a parent gets sick, especially our mother, our primary caregiver, everything changes in that child’s life. There is a lot of frustration, a lot of depression and anger, and all these feelings for kids who don’t have the coping strategies and skills to deal with it,” explained Guth.
“The program supports these kids from the time the mom’s diagnosed, through one year post death, should she die due to her cancer.”
A traumatic experience, including a parent’s serious illness, can increase the chances of mental health issues by 50 per cent.
“Kids who are exposed to a long-term illness of a parent or the death of a parent before the age of 18 have higher incidence of depression, suicide, eating disorders, criminal activity, drug abuse. I could go on and on,” said Guth.
NAN’s specially trained nannies help children cope with their feelings and work to mitigate mental health issues before they start.
“Kids want to know: Is she going to die? Did I cause it? Can I catch it? And who is going to take care of me?” said Guth.
Nancy Friedman has been a nanny angel since 2013. “There was a case where there was domestic violence. The father was Jewish and the mother was from Ukraine and they were raising the child Jewish,” said Friedman.
“The abuse took place prior, during and following her cancer. I helped the mother connect to Jewish Family & Child services and subsidized daycare and subsidized housing. It was amazing to see the transformation – connecting with the support and validating that she is right to keep herself and her son safe.
“She had treatment and a number of surgeries. While she was recovering, I was coming to take care of her little one. Knowing I made a difference in a child’s life, as well as being a witness to human resilience, are life-changing rewards.”
Serving the Greater Toronto Area and Kingston, Ont., NAN has helped over 1,000 children since its inception, providing more than 22,000 hours of service and supporting more than 750 families.
With the funds from the C3 Prize, NAN intends to expand across Canada.
NAN is recruiting Nanny Angels. For more information, visit nannyangelnetwork.com.