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Spreading my wings

Audrey Guth

by Audrey Guth, Survivor, Founder, Nanny Angel Network and CNN 2014 Hero

I’d like to share a very personal story with you.

Almost 50 years ago, when I was nine years old, my father was diagnosed with renal cancer. He was only 34 years old.  I was the eldest of the 4 children in the family, and as the oldest, I often accompanied my dad to Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York where he was receiving treatment.

I sat for hours unsupervised in a waiting room surrounded by all the other cancer patients waiting for their treatment.  I remember tubes, bald heads, emaciated bodies……..a scary and haunting place to take a young child, but you see, my mother had no choice.   She had three even younger children to look after at home: a 6-year old, a 4-year old and a baby of just 9 months.  So for the next 3 years, I was my father’s only companion during his treatment…and I had to grew up very, very fast.

Tragically, my father lost his battle to cancer three years later when I was twelve. At that time, no one talked to children about cancer.  We were left alone with our grief and our memories and those frightening recollections of hospitals and illness found a permanent hiding place in my mind.

Fast forward almost 50 years and I again found myself in the waiting room of a cancer center, among very sick young mothers and their very young children….but this time I was the patient.  This time, being a mother myself, I had a very different perspective as I watched these moms struggling to watch, comfort and entertain their kids at the same time when most of them hardly had the energy to walk into the treatment room.   Almost 50 years and nothing had changed!!!!  Young children continued to be taken into cancer treatment centers because their mothers simply had no alternative.

That day in the treatment room was my “AHA!” moment. As the owner of a nanny agency, I decided that there was a real opportunity to make other women’s cancer journey a little bit easier for them and for their families.

I realized that these other mothers I had seen could only dream of having the luxury of a nanny, and yet they were the ones who needed assistance the most.  It was also clear to me that many times these mothers had to miss or postpone necessary treatment appointments when they had to choose between caring for their children or caring for themselves….and we all know how often mothers do indeed put their children’s needs before their own, even when that means delaying potentially life-saving treatments.

The idea grew as I envisioned a world where no mother would be put in the heart-rending situation of having to choose between caring for their own health or caring for their children.  There was no question of how much this was needed…now we just had to put something in place. Through a network of professionals, volunteers, nannies and sympathetic friends who agreed to become our board of directors, the Nanny Angel Network was created to meet this need and to provide absolutely free in-home childcare to mothers with cancer so that mothers could go to their treatments, when they needed to, without having to worry about their children’s well-being.

The Nanny Angel Network is staffed by a small army of volunteer professional child care providers who have been carefully screened and specifically trained to deal with families in crisis.  Having a family member anywhere in a cancer journey is extremely stressful for members of that family, no matter the stage: treatment, recovery, palliative care or bereavement. Our program allows kids to be kids for just a little bit longer by providing a wonderful nanny angel who comes to play, focus on the children and provide some normalcy in their lives once again. Volunteers arrive with a big green bag filled with age-appropriate, creative activities for the children to enjoy with the nanny during the visit, and then be left with the child as a reminder of the fun they had during their time together.

Our nanny angels give mothers the opportunity to take their treatment when they need it…or just take rest, recover, regain their strength and heal.  With young children, a nap is a true luxury for any mother!

To date, the Nanny Angel Network has helped over 350 moms and provided care to over 600 children.  Over 42% of these moms have children under the age of three.  Fully 48% of all participants are single mothers, for whom we may be their only support system.  And our volunteers are there for our families long after friends and family may burn out. The volunteer angels of Nanny Angel Network are meeting a significant need in Toronto today.

Every year CNN selects 25 ordinary people that do extraordinary things for their community from over 10,000 nominations from 70 countries around the world.  I was absolutely shocked when I found out that I had been chosen as a CNN Hero for 2014. To my mind, I had simply recognized a gap between what our existing healthcare and social service network provided and envisioned a solution, then I went about putting the steps in place to make it happen. This doesn’t seem heroic to me at all, it was just the right thing to do!  Nevertheless, the CNN Hero Team travelled to Toronto to film Nanny Angel Network volunteers in action and produced 2 wonderful videos which have now been shown internationally when my nomination was announced. ‘Mary Poppins’ for moms who have cancer – and CNN Heroes: What’s in the ‘Big Green Bag‘? – YouTube

While I humbly accept this recognition, I know that the true heroes are the incredible volunteers that selflessly give of their time to help mothers with cancer, and it is for them that I appreciate the recognition from CNN and the increased attention it has given to the program…media coverage to let other moms with cancer know that we are here to help them, coverage to bring new volunteer angels into the program and exposure to new sponsors to help with program expenses and materials.  This coming fall, CNN executives will select the Top 10 Heroes for the year.  If we are chosen, the Nanny Angel Network will receive a grant of $25,000 to advance our program and we will be invited to their awards show airing in the fall where the final Hero of 2014 will be chosen.  Stay tuned and we will update you as news becomes available!

Finally, as a result of the intense media coverage and exposure that we have had this past month following the CNN Heroes nomination we now have an even higher need for volunteers from neighbourhoods surrounding Metro Toronto to help mothers in outlying areas of the GTA.  Perhaps you can help?  Many of our volunteers are retired teachers, nurses, ECE’s, child life specialists and students working for their accreditation in these fields.  We also have many cancer survivors who have joined our Nanny Angel Network as a way of helping others during the cancer journey that they themselves are so familiar with. We welcome you to contact us if you are interested in becoming a Nanny Angel at Be an Angel…volunteer!




Audrey Guth is the Founder and President of Diamond Global Recruitment Group Inc., a trusted foreign recruitment agency, sourcing nannies, homecare staff, skilled trades and hospitality workers to assist Canadian employers when local workers cannot be found.  Diamond prides itself on providing proven, ethical foreign recruitment, ensuring great fit candidates for employers and a smooth transition to a satisfying Canadian life for the workers.

Audrey’s is the founder of the Nanny Angel Network, a registered charity that provides free, professional relief childcare to mothers undergoing treatment for cancer

She has been recognized as a 2014 CNN Hero for her vision to create the Nanny Angel Network, and her tireless dedication to the mothers and children that benefit from the services it provides.


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