Every day I am surrounded by inspiring people, both in real life and online. Sometimes I have a chance to hug them in person and tell them how their actions have moved me. Other times, an email, a tweet, or a "like" lets them know I'm with them in spirit.
How many times have you scrolled through your Facebook feed and caught your breath when you see a friend going through a tough time and watched as they rose to the challenge? Tough times bring out the best in so many. Here are three people I admire for how they are handling the terrifying news that no one ever wants to hear: You've got cancer.
Toronto blogger and mother of two in her mid 30's, Renee Kaiman Levy was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 13, 2015. I can't even imagine what was going through her mind. The terror, the sadness, the pressure to make the right choices. After two short weeks of self-professed depression, Renee decided to make the best of the situation. She used social media to candidly post about her cancer journey, giving us a very personal view of the ravages of chemo and her double mastectomy, as well as the fallout from being sick while trying to raise a family.
But Renee's candor enabled her get through the process by inviting her community to help. It was a beautiful thing to watch her circle of friends, both close by and virtual, take care of her and her family so she could focus on healing. A year after her diagnosis, I'm so happy to see Renee is in remission, her hair is growing back in and she is even rocking it at the gym. Renee, your bravery, honesty and amazingly positive attitude inspires not just me, but so many others. Have you heard about the Nanny Angel Network, a cause close to Renee's heart?
(photo: My So Called Mommy Life)
I remember a random phone call about seven years ago from an Ottawa area code. "You should hire my wife to write for you. She's extremely talented." I clicked the link he forwarded me, and sure enough, Connie Bernardi was a superstar waiting to be discovered. Thanks to her husband Stu Schwartz who made that call unbeknownst to her, I invited Connie to join the YMC blogging team where she wrote for us for five years. I don't see Stu or Connie very often these days. "Stuntman" Stu is a beloved Ottawa radio host and Ottawa Senators PA announcer, and Connie is also well-known radio personality, but I do keep up with them through social media. Two months ago Stu, aka Stuntman Stu, took to Facebook in a very emotional video announcing he had just been diagnosed with leukemia. The internet exploded using #StuStrong to rally around him.
Stu is using his personal battle with leukemia to educate us about the disease and leveraging his notoriety to raise money for cancer research. It's a beautiful thing to witness how Stu has inspired Canadians to give blood and dollars by bearing his heart. So far $80,000 has been raised through #StuStrong since February 15 when he announced he has cancer. Stu is in the fight of his life. In a recent very emotional Facebook video, he let us know that an anonymous bone marrow donor has been found for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. We're all cheering for you Stu! Your generosity and great perspective on life make the world a brighter place.
I first met Heather Hamilton briefly 16 years ago when she sold me shoes for my wedding. I had no idea that a decade later our paths would cross again in the bloggersphere. Heather was documenting life with her family, with a focus on her special needs son Zac. She became an advocate for helping families and children like sweet little Zackie who we all grew to love. I still remember that devastating day when we lost little Zack to the angels. Every single person I knew on the internet had changed their avatars to Elmo, in honour of Zac's favorite character. Heather used her grief to inspire others and advocate for children with special needs. By sheer force she raised enough money to build Zack’s Dream Room in York Central Hospital. Heather is truly a beacon of positivity.
But once again Facebook was the place I learned that Heather has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Things are happening quickly now. Heather has already had her surgery to remove her thyroid and is now on the medication she'll be dependent on. Just like Renee and Stu, Heather's positive attitude is inspiring. And I'm very proud to call her my friend.
I am so honoured to know each of these people, each of them going through incredibly tough situations with grace.
I think a lot about those I know — those fighting cancer and their families — and I want to do something, albeit small, in their honour. On Mother's Day, May 8 I'll be running the Sporting Life 10k in their names. Funds raised go towards sending kids with cancer to Camp Ooch, a haven for kids who've already been through too much. If you'd like to donate to help send kids with cancer to Camp Ooch, more information is available here. And if you're running the Sporting Life 10K in support of the heroes in your life, I'll see you on race day!
These are only three people of the many who are dealing with cancer. There are too many others who are also in the fight of their lives. If you feel so inspired, tell me about them in the comments below. Let's celebrate their strength and let them know they're not alone.
My first real job was at McDonald's when I was sixteen. I had just moved back to the big city of Montreal to attend CEGEP after living on a horse ranch in the country. I was on a mission to earn some spending money to pay for my record-buying habit. My girlfriend had an "in" for me. She was already working at McDonald's and was loving the regular income. I painstakingly filled out my application and waited to hear if I had made the cut. I remember the thrill of getting the call about my first day at work, the mixed emotions of putting on my brown and yellow uniform for the first time, and the nerves on my first day behind the counter.
My job was order taker and cashier. "Would you like fries with your Big Mac?" become my daily mantra. For hours, I stood behind that iconic counter, greeting customers and selling burgers. This was a long time ago, but if memory serves, I also had to scoop the fries, make the drinks, add condiments to the take-out meals and bag 'em up. It was non-stop; McD’s was always busy. I was working for “the man”. But at the end of the week, when cheques were handed out, there was nothing quite like the high I got from earning my own money.
Having a real job was quite the culture shock with a big learning curve. For the first time in my life, I really had to play by someone else's rules. The mere fact that I had to wear a uniform was a big deal. I was a punk rocker at heart and proudly dressed the part. Wearing that brown and yellow uniform reminded me I wasn't “rock 'n' roll Erica” when working. I was “Erica, McDonald's employee,” with a different code of conduct. Rules had to be followed.
My parents weren't around to micromanage my time or behaviour. I was now playing in the big leagues, and my success and failure was on my own back. I had to show up on time and if not, my pay was docked. If I made it a habit, I'd lose my job. Making mistakes had repercussions. I always had to be pleasant to customers, even when I was having a bad day. Quite the departure from the expectations I was used to at school (which were more forgiving than the working world). For the first time in my life, I was fully accountable for my actions.
I certainly learned many life skills during the year I worked at McDonald's. First, work is hard. No work = no pay. I valued the dollars I earned and learned to spend them wisely.
Time management was also a big one. I had to wake up on time (even after a late night hanging out with friends), accommodate for bus schedules, and get my shifts into a calendar. Since I was also going to school, working at the school radio station, and had a rocking social life, I needed to be uber-organized to survive.
Finally, I had to learn to listen to my boss. For the most part, I toed the line, except for one small rule I unintentionally kept on breaking. We were reminded that, when taking orders, chatting with customers had to be kept to a minimum. We were told to take their order, pack it up, give them their change, say thanks. Rinse and repeat. I just couldn't do it. My superpower of authentically connecting with people was (understandably) not in line with a company who prided itself on speed and efficiency. I was definitely a weak link in that regard, which ultimately cost me my job. Although hard to accept, it was one of those good life lessons.
It's interesting how times change. McDonald's is still the place where so many teens land their first real job (almost 65% of the nearly 90,000 people employed at the golden arches in Canada are between the ages of 15 and 24). But the company is now way savvier in how they are attracting kids to join their team. They still offer appealing flex time so students can work around their school schedules, but they're also shifting the way jobs are positioned. Recognizing that working at McDonald's is often a stepping stone to a career, the company is now highlighting the “Skills for Life” which are the transferable skills like customer service, problem solving, and communications that you gain from working at McDonald’s. These are highly valued buzzwords in the work force nowadays and they are skills hiring managers and recruiters are looking for on resumes.
Here's what I find really interesting (and perhaps a little vindicating). McDonald's has done an about-face on their old school mentality of focusing on fast service rather than making personal connections with the customer. A corporate mind shift has led to creating roles focused on guest experience and hospitality, a far cry from what was expected from me back then. If I were working the same job today as I did when I was in college, I would have been praised for connecting with customers. I would have rocked that job!
My kids are now old enough to have jobs. My daughter just started babysitting and my son (who is almost the same age I was when I worked at McDonald's - WHAT?) just got signed to a modelling agency. Both of them are already learning that the road to making money is more complicated than they thought. I'm looking forward to them earning their own money, not just to ease the family's financial pressure, but for them to learn the valuable life lessons like I did that come along with my first job at McDonald’s. Who knows? Maybe they’ll follow in their mom’s footsteps and work at McDonald’s. Everyone has to get their start somewhere.
My inbox is cluttered with PR pitches for new products ranging from the benign to the inane. But this one in particular made my blood boil. Apparently there is a new trend for women to wear CORSETS which "visibly slims inches from your waistline while you wear it, while also making your bust and buttocks look more prominent." I'm not exaggerating. This is a direct quote from a PR pitch for HourglassAngel.com, which sells "shimmering high compression cinchers for the gym or under clothes."
What century am I in? Weren't women freed of wearing constricting corsets 100 years ago while fighting an old Canadian law that stated, “women should not be counted as persons”? Corsets were inhumane. Woman had been required to be corseted to be stylish, despite the fact that the pressure of the garments literally compressed and shifted their internal organs. Women were known to pass out from wearing a corset because they couldn't breathe. To me, corsets are a symbol of oppression. While men wore loose fitted clothing which allowed for powerful movement, women were physically constricted and socially powerless.
According to the HourglassAngel.com press release there is flexi-boning in the corset, which "helps correct your posture, giving you a taller, more confident stance." Rather than encourage women to train their muscles, this company suggests women can wear this restrictive garment to create the illusion of height. It makes me think of the Giraffe Women in Burma who, starting at the age of five, wear thick brass rings around their necks which push down the muscles around their collarbones and compress their ribs with the weight of the rings as a sign of beauty. Of course these women can't do strenuous physical work, and their power becomes diminished by cultural demands. Similarly with these asinine corsets. How effective a workout could you have wearing one of these devices?
HourglassAngel.com says, "One of the first things you'll notice when putting on a waist trainer for the first time is how strong the compression is. It may feel tight at first, but your body becomes accustomed to it quite quickly." It goes on to say, "Designed to be worn while you work out, the garment comfortably slims 1-3 inches from your waist while you wear it, ensuring you always look your best at the gym."
Hey; I have an idea! Let's put all of our female hockey players in them for their practices, so they look sexy in their uniforms. If you just threw up a little in your mouth, join the club. And where does this trend stop? Will we soon see "toddler trainers" in the marketplace? Why not "train" young bones while they're more pliable? Will designers now come up with an "exciting" new trend inspired by the not-so-long-ago Chinese women's hellish practice of foot binding? These poor women were forced to endure extraordinary pain from binding their feet into tiny shoes which didn't allow their bones to grow. Instead, they were forced to walk on mutilated feet stuffed into stilt-like footwear. Fashion designed by men crippled these women, once again stealing away their physical freedom. As an aside, how well can you run in stilettos?
How can a trend like corsets, or any other product which limits our mobility at the expense of how we look, be acceptable in this day and age? As parents, we are on the path of female empowerment, of gender equality, of STEM for girls, of hockey teams filled with females, of female executives, all who should be competing on a equal playing field with men. Why aren't my fellow feminists freaking out about this? A quick check for "waist trainer criticism" returns searches primarily related to the physical problems associated with trainers, another issue altogether.
Aside from the physical limitations a corset forces on the wearer, what about the larger concern of a woman actually caring how big or small her waist is? Would you actually wear a corset to create the illusion of a tiny waist? To what end? To attract a partner? What happens when you're finally in the sack and you have to take your corset off and they see that you are - GASP - imperfect?
I'll let you in on a little secret: of my all friends, those with smaller waists are no happier than those, like me, whose waists are average or plus size. Just like hoping your life will improve when you lose five pounds, the reality is body size or weight is not a predictor of happiness or success. Obsessing over it is.
I am raising my daughter to believe in herself, to trust that she is beautiful and powerful on the inside. I don't want her to be susceptible to superficial styles and fads like this. I am constantly reminding her to focus on what matters, like how she behaves, how she treats herself, and what she brings to the table. Self respect and self confidence are more attractive than any sized waist.
You can roll your eyes and suggest I calm down; that it's just an accessory and I'm making a big deal over nothing. But to me it's a slippery slope. Where there's a product, there's a market. This brand preys on women's insecurity. In a world of Kardashian-esque fame and Instagram superficiality which rewards looks over substance, too many women are vulnerable to this message.
Don't be victim to it. Rather than being preoccupied about the size of your waist, focus on the size of the impact you have on the world. The best part?