"I'm most inspired by the regular people in this world who have overcome major challenges and bounced back from them. Like many, I'm a work in progress on how I deal with tough things, but how do other people do it? I've set out to interview the people who inspire others with their resilience and share them with you." Janet Fanaki, Creator of RESILIENT PEOPLE
Inspiring stories from real life resilient people
ChiChiLifeNYC brings positive energy to people through fitness and community
photo courtesy The Confetti Project
Watch the interview with ChiChiLifeNYC founder Lauren Chiarello and RESILIENT PEOPLE creator Janet Fanaki
Did you hear the one about Jennifer Hsiung being the next big comic?
“If you’re too pretty it’s a distraction. If you’re too ugly, that’s funny.”
Jennifer Hsiung is a stand-up comic. If you’ve watched Amazon’s ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ you might characterize her as a modern day Midge. Part uptown mom, part Joan Rivers.
A busy mom to three young boys, there are several times a month when she kisses them goodnight and sneaks away to try her material in Toronto’s late-night comedy scene.
Nothing is off the table. Her act runs through cringe-worthy topics like the ugliness of tampons to vaginal birth and impersonating Donald Trump as her husband while he's persuading her to have sex with him.
The crowd’s reaction is mixed with roaring laughter and embarrassment. And it’s these rants that have gained her a following and bookings around the city.
It took one open-mike to get her hooked.
Jennifer began in comedy just over a couple of years ago while living in Beijing, China with her husband.
“A friend suggested that I try stand-up,” says Jennifer. As she put it, “you’d be good at it because you’re funny, smart and vulgar.”
The path to becoming a comic is not easy. She’s performed pregnant and post-partum, missed laughs from a stone-cold audience and been shut-out of bookings.
She mentions the tokenism that occurs because of the mentality that only one Asian can be booked on a line-up. To that she says, “You don’t need to just have one in a group, choose because I’m funny and not because you have to fill your roster.”
And there were times when she bombed.
“I felt so badly, but was going to redeem the shit out of myself,” she says with laser focus. “It’s us against a bar full of noisy patrons, like a scene from Saving Private Ryan where you’re on a mission to make people laugh.”
Her commitment and perseverance has been paying off. She earned a spot as the only woman to make it to the finals of the 2017 Hong Kong International Comedy Competition and in 2018 appeared with Sugar Sammy on Comedy Central Stand-up, Asia!
Jennifer says that comedy is funny when people can relate to an element of truth or suffering. In turn, it has given her an opportunity to be less introverted, as well as feel the love and admiration she missed as a child.
Her parents divorced when she was young and what followed was a horrible period of sexual abuse.
Jennifer admits that, “comedy has been empowering for me, giving me the power and control on-stage that I didn’t have as a child.”
And she’ll continue as long as she keeps enjoying it. Fuelling her fire with the applause and admiration of the audience.
“Its addictive," she says. "And I look at this as a real privilege. These are moments that these people will never get back because they’re watching my show.”
www.jhsiung.com @jennifer_hsiung on Instagram
Toronto's dancing lawyer lost his home to a fire but didn't miss a beat
I met John while Christmas shopping at the mall. It was in a pop-up lounge where I was taking a break with a cup of coffee and about to check my Instagram feed.
An empty chair was beside me and he asked if he could take the seat. He was dressed in dark clothing with fun bright blue socks and his silver hair loosely brushed back.
“Isn’t it wonderful that they offer this?” he said as he pointed to the gift-wrapping station. “I’m not much for gift wrapping but I love shopping for my grandchildren.”
He spoke a lot about his daughter and her young children, and a grandson who was considering a football scholarship to a prestigious Canadian university.
“All of my family attended Queen’s University,” which was a big coincidence since that too was my alma mater. I remember him saying that forty some-odd of his ancestors attended there, where I was the only one from mine.
From talking about family to work, John and I spoke for quite a while.
He told me that he’s ‘a lawyer by day, and dancer by night’. I asked him coyly, “What type of a dancer are you?” and he said enthusiastically, “Latin”.
“I was doing a lot of work in the mining industry in Costa Rica and other Latin American countries and really took to the dancing,” he said. “So I learned how to dance and now compete.”
John also told me that he was living at his daughter’s house for a period of time, because his house on Toronto’s lakeshore burned down and he was in the process of rebuilding.
“I had just left an hour before to go to a dance competition and got a call that my house was on fire.”
There was speculation that it was caused by a lit cigarette butt getting blown into one of his planters from a neighbour's balcony and sparking the fertilizer in the soil. On the same phone where he proudly showed me photos of his grandson, he also showed me a photo of a beautiful white building engulfed in flames.
I asked him what its like to watch your house burn down.
As if he was talking to the fire, he said, “I looked at it and thought, you’ll take a few days from me and that’s it.”
While he lay in bed at his daughter’s house, he thought of what he lost in the fire and found a way to get closure.
“I said to the shoes I used to wear, you’re now going to shoe heaven where no one will ever walk on you again.”
And to his vast collection of prized art and paintings, he said to them, “Goodbye to the little people who lived inside the vignettes on the canvas. You can now leave and walk freely.”
To John, this was ‘bookending’.
Another step to closure had him host a party to say goodbye to his home. At the generosity of a friend with a penthouse apartment he did just that, which even included inviting the firefighters who tried to save his house.
And as John looks forward to this summer he’ll be dancing to a new song as he moves into his new home. Hopefully hosting another fabulous party.
Luciana is a New York City maid who delivers service with a smile
On a New York morning in May, I left my hotel room and headed down the hallway towards the elevator.
I was greeted by a voice coming from another guest room. “Good morning” came to me in a sing-song kind of a way from the housekeeper.
She was dressed in a black and white uniform with her auburn-coloured hair pulled back in a bun. Her nametag had Luciana stamped on it in cursive.
During my stay, I saw her a few more times as we exchanged pleasantries.
On each of our encounters, she was either vacuuming a room, stepping out of a guest room or in the supplies closet at the end of the hall.
That’s where we began our conversation. With the door wide open, something peeked my interest to move in closer.
“I really like the artwork on the walls here,” I said. The windowless room was roughly four by five feet as she invited me to step inside.
With a wide grin she said, “These are my angels. I love them so much.” Plaques and photos of them were everywhere.
Luciana told me that thirty years ago she moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic.
She was divorced with two young children and living on welfare in New York. Back home she was a journalist.
I asked her what it was like to leave that behind and move to the US.
“Spanish women are used to a man making things happen but it was all on me,” she said. “I had no one to push for me so I pushed for myself – and when you live in New York, the city pushes you.”
She found a job working in housekeeping for a popular hotel and has stayed there for over 20 years.
She greets all guests in the same friendly way as she did for me.
“I like to make people happy and comfortable,” she said. But sometimes that friendliness isn't always reciprocated by the guests she sees most days.
Looking me straight in the eyes, she says, “Guests treat housekeepers like they are invisible, but we see a lot.”
The Happy Soul Project built a worldwide community for families with Down Syndrome
Tara was like many expectant mothers today. She regularly posted photos about her pregnancy to social media, eagerly anticipating the birth of her baby. They would name her Reid, but call her by her nickname, Pip.
Within a few days of her daughter’s arrival, Tara and her husband got the news that Pip was born with Down Syndrome, congenital cataracts and numerous heart defects.
They were in total shock since there was no indication during her pregnancy.
Tara went dark on social media and from the world around her.
“I was grieving the child that she was supposed to be and who I thought I wanted her to be,” says Tara while speaking with me on the phone.
One night while laying Pip in her crib, Tara crouched down sobbing on the floor beside her.
“I couldn’t remember how long I was there, it could have been minutes or hours.”
She looked up to see a sign that she had painted and hung above the crib which read, ‘Life is more beautiful because you are here.’
Tara got up and returned to her computer to post her raw feelings through a blog, announcing that her daughter had Down Syndrome.
That same night, she received replies from around the world from other parents of special needs children.
The days and weeks that followed, Tara continued to post and gather a bigger circle of support around her. Social media had become her therapy and listening ear.
She named her page, The Happy Soul Project and it now has over 26,000 followers on Instagram, and over 32,000 on Facebook.
“I gathered an army to support us,” says Tara. “We’ve been uplifted by people worldwide.”
By creating the blog, Tara and her family learned to focus on the magic that is in Pip. At five years old, she has undergone 20 operations but does so with humour, grace and always a sense of playfulness.
Tara’s posts focus on their family life including videos of their morning routine, going for walks and talking with one another, bedtime stories and family outings.
All with the aim of making Pip front and centre while showing the normalcy and fun in raising a child with special needs.
Some of the other projects that Tara is spearheading include a worldwide #differentisbeautiful campaign featuring children with special needs.
In addition, there is the Happy Soul Project shop which is managed by adults with special needs, a school program, a Queen’s University Club with hundreds of students and community events.
“I wanted to somehow make a dent in the universe,” she says. “Initially I did the blog for me, but now it’s become my purpose to help others.”
To connect with The Happy Soul Project, visit www.happysoulproject.org
A brain tumour empowered Margaret Ng to find her best health
Margaret Ng and her father share something in common. Brain tumours. I met Margaret at the annual Brain Tumour Foundation conference in Toronto. She had just delivered a keynote address that stunned the audience.
When she was 9 years old, Margaret’s father was experiencing severe headaches, nausea and vomiting. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, which was eventually removed, leaving him with impaired eyesight.
Over the next eleven years, he underwent further surgeries and treatments related to the tumour’s regrowth, causing him to fall into deep depression, lose his eyesight and, at times, his will to survive. This was painful for the entire family.
Thirteen years after her father's treatments ended, Margaret began experiencing the same severe headaches and vomiting.
She too had a brain tumour. A decision was made to remove it quickly, and Margaret was faced with the grim news that it was a grade 3 oligoastrocytoma, a malignant type of brain cancer.
The prognosis was not good, with the doctors giving her 2-3 years to live.
She struggled with how this could be happening not once but twice within her family. At that time, she was a newlywed, in a fantastic career and living a healthy life.
Upon learning her prognosis, she spent the day in complete sadness.
“At some point I decided that the sadness does not serve me,” she said. “This isn’t how I want to live the rest of my life, whether I have days, months, years or decades ahead of me.”
Along with using traditional medical treatments, she turned to evidence-based healing, developing a plan that incorporated nutrition, exercise, art therapy, sleep and stress management, as well as supplementation to help her heal.
“I am doing what I need to do to defy the stats. I am in control and confident.”
Margaret also leaned on her strong religious faith to give her strength and guidance.
Her religious beliefs helped her to accept the diagnosis and that everything happens for a reason.
“God has an intention for what happens in the world, so what can we take from this and learn from it?”
Five years since her diagnosis and 30 years since her father’s, they both continue to live full and healthy lives. Margaret has also become a mother to 2 beautiful girls.
She says, “this journey has been a transformational opportunity for me.” On Halloween 2013, “my unexpected guest reared its ugly head and has given me the opportunity to live my life with more gratitude, a sense of adventure, and do things to keep my mind and body in healthy balance.”
By embracing life’s positive and negative challenges, we can all learn and view them as opportunities to do something with our lives.
Margaret Ng can be contacted at www.nutritioustherapy.com
Staring down her midlife fears
Elizabeth Verwey is a risk taker.
We met at her home in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood. It’s a warm and cozy apartment filled with lots of books and photos of family and friends.
With a head of brilliant curly grey hair and a splash of purple on the front fringe, she greeted me with a warm hug instead of a handshake.
Elizabeth’s life has been filled with a mixture of happiness and tragedy, which included: murder, suicide, rape, the end of her 36-year marriage, and the loss of her beloved brother when he was only 50.
During our talk, she told me about a book that helped her called, The Aladdin Factor.
“It tells you to make a list of the 100 things you want to do before you die.” Taking this as a cue to make significant changes to herself and her life she said, “I realized that I had a lot of fears holding me back.”
So when she turned 55 years old she made a list of the fears that no longer served her.
One was of living alone. Elizabeth met her husband when she was 17 years old and got married at 19.
She only knew domestic life with her ‘wusband’, as she comically refers to her ex-husband. But proving that she could move forward, she found an apartment as well as a new life within it.
Another fear Elizabeth had was of heights. To conquer this she flew to South Africa and went tandem paragliding.
And the last she told me of was sharks. To prove that she got over it, she played a video for me from that same trip to South Africa where she went shark cage diving and came face-to-face with the predators.
“By conquering my fears it felt that I was breaking free of my constraints,” said Elizabeth. “I was freeing myself.”
She is now 62 years old and lives life fully.
She even drove by herself from Toronto to Canada’s east coast. “Being at the wheel on my own, and making my own decisions on where to go, was amazing!”
By delving into her own challenges and triumphs, as well as being a natural people connector, Elizabeth created the speaker series, Spoken Lives.
Each Spoken Lives event brings four women in front of other women to share their inspiring stories of challenges, adventure and triumph. The goal is for the audience to see themselves in the stories.
I ask her what she has learned from her own personal story and triumphs.
“I’ve learned that I’m more capable than I ever imagined."
For more info on Spoken Lives: www.spokenlives.com
Toronto woman starts Canada's first Trauma Support Network after bicycling hit and run
Margaret Harvey loves riding her bike through the streets of Toronto.
Back in 2012, she was riding to work and stopped at a busy intersection in the downtown core. A garbage truck turned in-front of her, knocked her to the ground and ran her over with its back wheels.
Margaret invited me to her home to learn more about that horrible day.
"I was conscious during the accident," she said from the comfort of her living room sofa. "The first thing I did was wiggle my toes to make sure I wasn't paralyzed."
She was bleeding to death and was rushed to the hospital where she underwent a blood transfusion. Margaret was intubated and suffered a fractured pelvis, lacerations to her groin and severe internal bleeding.
Three weeks at St. Michael's Hospital and four months of rehabilitation therapy, she returned to work only a short time after. Even without her full mobility, she thought that she was mentally and physically ready.
In reality, “I set myself up for failure.”
She quit her job and for the following four years she sunk into a deep depression.
“I felt very alone and frightened.”
She learned about a support group for trauma victims in the United States at The American Trauma Society partnered with John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Something like this did not exist in Toronto and she was determined to create it, so she approached St. Michael’s Hospital about starting a trauma support group.
One year later, along with the help of the hospital’s team of experts including social workers, psychiatrists and therapists, Margaret was able to launch the first Canadian Trauma Survivors' Network. It is called My BeST which stands for Beyond Surviving To Thriving.
My BeST provides support to patients, along with their families and caregivers, who have experienced any type of trauma-related injury including: car crash, gun shot wounds, vehicle accidents and work-related injury. The group meets monthly and has open discussions as well as presentations from experts on a variety of topics including: pain and sleep management and advocacy.
“It has been so rewarding to make so many friends with the same experience as me,” said Margaret. "It has given me so much confidence."
Approximately four years after her accident, Margaret purchased a new pink bike. She rode it, taking the side streets home, and now takes it everywhere she goes -- including to St. Michael’s Hospital.
For more information about My BeST, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Adventure photographer Lucinda Grange gets excited about climbing buildings and bridges
Lucinda Grange has an interesting hobby. It’s been called stunt climbing, thrill seeking and urban exploring.
We met at a New York City joint called, The Adventure Café. A cute little spot in the East Village, perfectly named for our talk.
“We’re all confined by barriers,” she says. “I’m going outside of the box turning the urban jungle into my jungle.”
With her camera in hand, she has climbed and roamed dozens of abandoned and forbidden landmarks around the world.
Notre Dame in Paris, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, hidden sewer passages in Berlin, and Kings Reach Tower in London to name a few.
This is not considered to be a safe sideline, but the rewards far outnumber the anxiety that she feels when she reaches her goal.
Lucinda has stood on the eagles at the top of the Chrysler Building twice and scaled the Manhattan Bridge, all while being mindful of not getting spotted by security helicopters.
And summiting to the top of the great pyramid in Giza meant averting jail time. With views of sandy desert and the lights of Cairo in the distance, the descent was like a gradual reintroduction into the world below.
She is part of a unique group of adventurers who climb famous bridges, roam tunnels beneath our feet and perch themselves on buildings high above the streets and sidewalks.
At 12 years of age she had her first taste of adventure at a local quarry. Soon after she was climbing large bridges.
“The first time was the hardest,” she says. “But it taught me that I could do something more dangerous the next time.”
The more she did, the more rewarding it became for her. Although she does not urge others to do what she does, she encourages everyone to look and explore life outside of their comfort zone.
“Camping on rooftops is a great way to connect with your city, where the city lights become your stars.”
She wants people to look at their environment differently.
Going to the end of the subway platform and looking down the tracks to imagine what else is there, or visiting the roof of your office building.
Lucinda feels that by doing these micro adventures, people will get a more personal connection to their surroundings.
“Turn fear or curiosity into excitement and appreciate the views and feelings that come with it.”
And maybe the next time, you will venture down, up or in.
To learn more about Lucinda and her upcoming exhibits, visit www.lucindagrange.com
Lebanese man hopes for brighter future as taxi driver in Canada
Sultan is a taxi driver living in Ottawa.
I hopped into his blue and white cab on my arrival to Canada’s capital city.
Arabic music played on the radio.
I asked him where he was from. “Lebanon,” he answered with a smile in the rear view mirror.
Like many immigrants, he explained that he came to Canada in search of a better life.
“From Lebanon, my family moved to Dubai where my wife and two young children are living,” he said.
While living there he was gainfully employed as a construction manager. He continues to do this work when he goes back to visit.
“It was easier for me to find work there with my Arabic language,” and he said that he made good money being a foreman.
Sultan came to Canada with hopes of applying his skills in the same profession, but the language barrier and lack of connections prevented it.
“If I spoke Italian or Portugese I could get a job,” he said. “I knew someone in Toronto and heard about another in Montreal but I don’t know anyone in Ottawa. Its easier when you have a connection.”
To provide for his family he will continue driving the cab and making the 20-hour trip back to Dubai twice a year to do construction work.
“It’s very hard being so far away,” he said while nodding his head.
“My wife won’t do it anymore so I go back and forth. I hope this will be temporary for me and that I will go back to live with them.”
What we can learn about business and life from an Olympian
Martha Henderson represented Canada with her sailing team at the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing.
We met in Toronto’s Bloor West Village neighbourhood at a lively café to talk about her Olympic journey, becoming an entrepreneur and how resilience played a part in both journeys.
She started her story by telling me that she sailed at a high level for much of her life. Being introduced to the sport by her father who is a two-time Olympian in sailing, you might say that its in her blood.
She began sailing at age six and racing at nine.
When some considered her to be “too old” for competition, Martha was in her 30s when she assembled a team that would train to qualify for the 2008 Beijing games.
Recognizing her seniority, Martha recalls, “I was a good 8 to 10 years older than some of my teammates. This didn’t affect our rapport, because we had the same goal, but I did go to bed a lot earlier.”
Assembling a team is not a simple feat. In Martha’s case, she was also working as a consultant but treated her burgeoning team like a small business.
The sailing component was just a small part of the operation.
“There was fundraising, marketing, recruiting team members, shipping the boat to competitions, renting cars in foreign countries and building the right team with the right personalities that would fit together.”
At 40 years of age and in a career highlight, Martha and her team finished 13th at the Olympics, which should have put the naysayers who told her that she was too old to shame.
She now runs a business called, Rising Tides. Her vision is to inspire men and women to be better everyday through health and wellness, public speaking engagements and experiential travel.
What she learned in and out of the water is true to the old saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
She is taking her leadership expertise and doing for her clients what she did for her sailing team. Proving that the steps you make everyday will help you achieve your goals.
Learn more about Rising Tides at www.risingtides.ca
Elly Gotz shares the life lessons learned from the Holocaust
When I meet Elly at a café close to his home, it doesn’t take long for him to tell me a joke.
“A priest, a minister and a rabbi discuss when life begins.”
It’s a joke from a bygone era but it immediately sets the tone for our chat.
At 90 years old, Elly is a tall handsome man, with thick white hair and a wide welcoming smile.
“I love to tell jokes,” he says.
It’s the perfect paradox to our serious discussion about his teen years before and after the Second World War. His time in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, later separated from his mother and barely surviving with his father in the Dachau concentration camp.
Growing up in Lithuania, Elly experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.
“I was 17 years old when I came out of Dachau,” says Elly. “When we were freed I spent six months in hospital” gaining weight back and rebuilding his strength.
Even though he was later deemed physically well, he admits that emotionally he was not and sought revenge on all Germans.
He came to the self-realization that it was unproductive to hold on to his anger.
“You can’t accuse a whole nation of being murderers,” he says. “I had to give up hate.”
By coming to terms with his past, Elly was able to build a future for himself and his family.
From childhood he dreamed of becoming an engineer and a pilot. During his time in the ghetto, he received skilled trades training from a worldwide organization called ORT and later attended university to earn a degree as a professional engineer.
In Canada he fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot and flying his own plane.
He coined the phrase, ‘to do something well has healing properties’. The skills he learned in the ghetto gave him the opportunities that would build him a life.
Having run several successful businesses, he now volunteers for numerous charities including ORT Toronto, as well as Miles For Millions and his synagogue.
In addition, Elly continues to speak to over 100 schools a year about the Holocaust and the power of giving up hate and following your dreams.
“Its a good life. Don’t feel too bitter about difficulties, just deal with them the best you can.”
Facing stomach cancer in her 20s, gave Lina a new purpose in life
When I met Lina Miranda for an early morning coffee, she had just finished teaching a fitness class.
For the last seven years she has been a trainer and instructor at GoodLife, Canada’s largest chain of fitness clubs and gyms. She is also a spokesperson for Reebok’s #expressyourstrong campaign.
Her years committed to healthy living have paid off as she is in phenomenal shape. But her story doesn’t start there.
“I was living the life of a very typical 21 year old,” she said. “And then I got seriously ill.”
Lina was attending university, working part-time as a waitress, dating and what she described as “having a lot of fun.”
She was experiencing severe pain in her abdomen that was diagnosed at different medical assessments as heartburn, an ulcer, and Hepatitis C. There was even a question of her being a drug user, which could not have been further from the case.
A very large tumour was growing inside of her stomach. At the time she was given a 20% chance of surviving past five years.
She had surgery to remove the tumour as well as 6 months of radiation and chemotherapy treatment. At the start of her treatment she was a healthy 130 pounds and dropped to 90 pounds at the end.
Now at 39 years old, Lina says that, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” By getting sick, she was able to turn her attention to getting well and focussed on helping others to do the same.
She listed for me all of the things that her passion has done for her.
“Fitness keeps me sane, it makes me feel physically well, and I feel like a better person.”
She begins to cry when I ask her if she has shared her personal story with her classes.
“I have built such a sense of community with my members along with amazing friendships and bonds,” she says as she’s drying her tears.
From her scary experience, Lina wants people to learn from their own, understand that even though you can’t control some of the things that happen in your life, you can control the way you look at them.
To learn more about Lina Miranda and her book, DNA Moments, visit www.mylinamiranda.com
Susan Mintz became a safe sex advocate following the death of her husband from AIDS
Susan has led a life that seems like a Hollywood movie.
She fell in love with her best friend, got pregnant, married and miscarried their only child. Later she discovered that her husband was homosexual with multiple partners, and ultimately died of AIDS.
I met Susan when she reached out to me on Twitter. Her story was so unique that I had to learn where she found her resilience.
Susan and her husband Jeffrey met in Grade 5. Their close friendship turned into a love that would last a lifetime.
“I always say that I had a friendship from heaven and a marriage from hell,” she tells me over the phone from Florida.
She compared their partnership to Bill and Hillary Clinton, as they were always a team and there for each other.
When Jeffrey came out to her as being gay, she maintained that God spoke to her to keep her vow “till death do us part.” She never considered leaving him.
In 1981 Susan was watching the news when a story came on about a disease that was killing gay men. In 1991 Jeffrey showed symptoms of having HIV.
He was hospitalized for pneumonia in 1992 and at that point Susan hit rock bottom. With the stigma associated with AIDS at that time, Jeffrey was put in isolation.
To help herself cope she kept a journal, filling 15 books.
Since Jeffrey’s death 24 years ago, Susan hasn’t stopped campaigning for HIV and AIDS testing.
“Jewish people love to tell stories,” she says. “I am a storyteller.”
With her amazing story she published a book titled, “Committed To Love”.
At 72 years of age she shows no signs of slowing down.
She is a tireless advocate for HIV and AIDS awareness as well as hospice care, has written two books, campaigns for her story to be made into a movie, and speaks to groups regularly on the importance of early detection, knowing your status and treatment options.
“Adversity pushes you to purpose and makes you determined,” she says as we wrap up. “I have lived by the message of triumph over tragedy. You can’t escape the tragedy, but it’s what you do with it.”
Suffering from depression led Toronto man to be Motivatorman
Emmanuel is a motivational speaker, award-winning illustrator and blogger from Toronto. For many years, he suffered with severe depression.
“In 2000, I felt depressed, withdrawn, and burnt out,” he says. “And, just before Christmas that year, my father suddenly passed away as well as my grandfather.”
These events triggered a dark period in his life that persisted for many years.
He experienced low points of self-esteem as well as a loss of purpose. Some days he could not even get up, because his limbs felt as though they were made of lead.
One day, while he was lying on the couch, the movie “Groundhog Day” came on the television. There was a scene where the lead character, played by Bill Murray, was lying hopelessly in bed.
“I connected to this fictional character who was trying to break out of his loop.”
This was the moment where he connected the power of cinema to helping his condition and transforming his mind.
In 2015, following years of depressive, and sometimes suicidal feelings, Emmanuel was formally diagnosed with clinical depression. He was referred to a 15-week group therapy course called, cognitive behavioural therapy at the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.
Along with finally receiving the proper treatment, he also credits movies for saving his life.
He created the brand, Motivatorman, where he writes a weekly movie blog and offers other resources for managing depression. He has been featured in The Washington Post, and New York Times on the ways that cinema can be used to heal.
He is also an acclaimed speaker to corporations, associations and government groups on ways that they can use movies to develop a leadership mindset and promote teamwork.
“I want people to know that they are not alone and there is always an answer, even if you can’t see it right now,” he says. “You can develop an indestructible optimism, and you can do it through Hollywood movies.”
Like the characters that inspire him on the screen, perhaps the story of Emmanuel and his journey will also be made into a Hollywood movie, one day.
A mother shares her sense of loss and hope following the murder of her son
Mona Lam-Deslippe has experienced every mother’s nightmare.
In 2016, her son Nathan was brutally beaten to death by his long-time friend, William Joles. Nathan Deslippe was 27 years old.
Nathan was a handsome and funny young man with dark hair and eyes, a smirkish grin, and a love for yoga, wearing bowties and helping others. As his mother puts it, “He was full of shenanigans, played many different instruments and could spot a flat note anywhere.”
Losing a child is the worst experience that a parent can face. It is magnified in the case of a murder because of the time spent in the criminal justice system with victims being thrust into the media spotlight.
“You know, it’s funny,” says Mona. “Everything leading up to the trial wasn’t about us because we were observers. When we had to deliver our victim impact statements, all of a sudden it was about us.”
Added challenges come in unexpected places.
Strangers will surprise Mona by mentioning Nathan’s name, a story will appear on the news, or “things come up, his picture comes up and Nathan pops up,” she says, “and all you can do is take a breath and think it was another difficult moment.”
Mona and her son worked together at a business she founded in 1989, the same year that Nathan was born.
The business is thriving but as she puts it, “I’ve had the usual ups and downs. His voice is on a project that we had started together,” and “it’s like a blessing and a curse.”
Mona, her husband, daughter and Nathan were a very close family.
The community has wrapped its arms around the Deslippes by hosting fundraising events, raising awareness and offering them support over the last couple of years. While Mona leads the charge, the community follows up to make these events happen. “Its almost like they’ve become our kids,” she says.
They created the Nathan Deslippe Memorial Fund, with monies raised going to different causes.
They are members of Nathan’s leadership team, co-workers, friends, event attendees and the business community.
“When things get tough, its one of the things that keeps us moving,” she says.
As we wrap-up our conversation, she says, “There have been so many things that have happened to my family and its up to us to decide our future and carry on.”
“People say one day at a time, but sometimes it’s an hour at a time, a minute at a time, or a breath at a time.”
“You never know, you just carry on to the next breath.”
To learn more about Nathan Deslippe including making a donation to the memorial fund, www.nathantdeslippe.com
Rallying for Sunnybrook's Cancer Centre in the wake of losing his wife
Jason was assigned to be Tory’s “Buddy” when she arrived as a new hire at his workplace. On her first day, he was to take her on a tour, answer any questions she may have, and just be a buddy.
The two became friends, friendship turned to love, they eventually got married, and had a beautiful daughter named, Kate.
In the summer of 2016, Tory was diagnosed with breast cancer. They visited The Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital for daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
The process was gruelling. Each visit lasted for hours. There was a lot of waiting – for blood work, treatments, meeting with the nurse, and finally to get medication at the pharmacy.
At many of the appointments, Tory and Jason would discuss the ways to make patients feel more comfortable at their appointments.
They thought that assigning a volunteer to a new patient would be a good way to make them feel more comfortable and at-ease. Also having a bed, rather than a chair, so patients can rest.
Tory wanted to start fundraising for these initiatives. Even as her health deteriorated, they made a commitment to make this plan a reality.
By the spring of 2017, Tory was gone.
With the heartbreak of her passing, Jason stayed committed to their idea.
“We set out to improve the comfort of cancer patients,” said Jason. “I made it my mission to help people who were in similar situations.”
The Tory Day Fund www.toryday.org was born. Jason and his team of friends and family held events and fundraisers, raising $128,000 in one year. “I fostered a community, and the community took care of me,” he said.
A Buddy system is now operating at the Odette Cancer Centre. Now, a volunteer will greet new patients on their first visit, bring them to the registration desk and be alongside them for the duration of their stay. Tory’s dream is a reality.
Because when you’re new to a place, a buddy can help make you feel a little more comfortable.
LivingstrongMD raises money in the name of SickKids, Ronald McDonald House and family
Britney and her cousin Mikey are both 24 years old. The two have been close their entire lives.
Mikey spent his entire life in and out of hospitals, battling a serious illness. He was born with six holes in his heart and Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder causing physical and intellectual disabilities.
There were many times, more than she would like to remember, that Britney and her family were told to say their goodbyes to Mikey.
“I have seen the emotional rollercoaster that my aunt, uncle and cousins have been on, watching Mikey go in and out of the hospital,” she says. “And I see firsthand the heartbreak that so many families experience.”
Mikey now requires around the clock care, which he receives at home.
Witnessing what comes with having a seriously ill child and the toll that it takes on a family, Britney has channelled her energy into helping other children and their parents.
In 2015, she began fundraising for two Toronto charities that were close to her heart, The Hospital for Sick Children and Ronald McDonald House in Toronto. Mikey spent much of his life at Sick Kids, as did his family.
She named her campaign, LivingstrongMD.
“What Mikey is doing is living strong, he is really the resilient one,” she says. “I wanted to name it for how we look at him.”
Within 4 days of announcing her intentions, she raised $5,000 and topped out at $8,000 that year. The next year she raised $9,000, and in her 3rd year collected $10,000.
She established a GoFundMe page, and with only half a year to go, she has raised over $10,000. Her goal is to raise $20,000 by the Christmas holidays.
The money has been used to purchase items for the Sick Kids “Sponsor A Family” program. Children and parents received gift cards from stores like Walmart and Loblaw, Toronto Raptors merchandise, as well as game consoles and lots of toys.
Knowing that her campaign has allowed children to play, and made life a little easier for their families, brings joy to Britney.
She was also able to pay for 2 families to stay at Ronald McDonald House during the holidays. This facility helps families to stay close to their children who are receiving care in the hospital, creating a home away from home.
Britney’s aunt has told her that Mikey is very proud of her and everything that she has done.
“I want families to know that someone is thinking about them.”
Since publishing this story, LivingstrongMD has donated thousands of dollars to help children and their families at SickKids and Ronald McDonald House Toronto. To learn more about it, visit www.ca.gofundme.com/livingstrongmd
Reflecting on the highs and lows of motherhood
Yesterday, I left my Hannah Bea far away to be an adult in a different province again.
Too far away to draw on her back when she can't sleep, give her hugs when she needs her daily dose and cook for her when she is too lazy. All normal mom things that I engaged in for the vast majority of my own adult life.
Last year was her first year away and was incredibly hard. I lost 2 of my babies at once, as Lily Michaela Tova went in the opposite direction to start her new adult life at school, in an apartment with strangers who have since become her new family.
This is what I wanted: happy, excited, confident, resilient kids who have become happy, excited, confident, resilient young adults. Who now know the merits of taking the garbage out themselves, paying a little more on quality paper towels, checking the price tags on groceries and knowing the great pleasure of indulging a little.
And yet, yesterday as I left Montreal, I was so sad and didn't stop crying until at least Cornwall.
"Oh mom, you're so dramatic", Hannah said when she called to check on me.
Raising kids for 20 years and leaving them to be their own real-life standalone individuals in charge of their own hydro bills and expiration dates IS dramatic. It's not just a very important transition for them but, in its second year, it has a finality about it that is both sad and incredibly liberating.
I did it, I raised kids who can survive if left to their own devices. Granted, UberEats might be part of their survival strategy, but so be it. Times have changed. Just not on my card, please.
The problem with sometimes struggling with depression is that you second guess your own responses to normal life experiences. Is my sadness warranted and normal or is it a foreboding of the uncontrollable darkness that can sometimes descend for no reason and no clear endpoint?
But, yes, I cried and I might cry again today and tomorrow and maybe a few specific moments next month when I miss you, baby Hannah, and my Lily Bean. And confront parenting a wanna-be 16 year old rapper who merely grunts at me most of the time in the absence of his sister-allies.
This IS normal sadness and happiness and all the feelings that fall between. It is a good sign-- one of a mom who was connected and committed to being a mom and who is happy/sad to see their successes and my own.
Successes that mean they move away from me and on to their own lives and I become a little more of a peripheral player.
So to that, I proudly raise my tear-stained face, take a deep breath and continue to work on my happy, excited, confident, resilient self I forgot about whilst raising my kids.
Happy/sad back to school to all the parents sending off their kids. You done good.
Blogging helped to get her message out loud and clear
Alexandra is a 26 year-old woman who loves to perform. From the time that she was a little girl holding a turkey baster for a microphone, she has loved the applause of the audience.
For most of her young life, Alexandra was bullied and alone.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends at school,” she says. “No one wanted anything to do with me and I felt very isolated from everyone.”
She grew up deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other.
This did not pose a problem for her until Grade 4 when she moved to a new school.
“When I changed schools, it was the first time that people looked at me differently,” she says. “It was the first time in my life that I felt insecure.”
Before that time, she was an outgoing, funny girl with braids and a big smile. Her hearing aid was visible, but no one acknowledged it at school.
“When I moved to my new school, my hearing aid became what all of the kids focused on,” she said. “And it got worse in high school.”
Alexandra was able to turn to a few teachers who encouraged her to pursue her passions and not focus on the negative. She joined the drama club and was cast as a lead in the school’s production of “The Odd Couple”.
At graduation she was given an Award of Achievement as well as other distinctions.
“Having my accomplishments get noticed made me feel good and I began to stop doubting myself,” she says. “I realized that the people who ignored me had their opinions and I shouldn’t let that affect who I am.”
She began writing a blog titled Inside The Poetic Mind (www.insidethepoeticmind.wordpress.com) where she writes inspiring and motivating articles that she hopes will help others.
“What I hope is that people will realize that you shouldn’t feel ashamed or let a person’s opinion define who you are,” she says. “They don’t know you or what you are capable of.”
Centenarian reflects on hardships and the will to carry on
Anastasia is 103 years old. She was born in Ukraine during World War I.
When she was twelve, she moved to Canada with her mother and three younger siblings.
She still remembers the harrowing boat ride over the Atlantic Ocean.
“I remember it being so windy and dark with the ship making loud noises that scared me,” she says. “The sea was so rough and the boat went up and down with water splashing everywhere.”
She thought that she would die.
When they arrived, they were reunited with her father who had settled outside of Winnipeg. Anastasia began living a normal childhood in Canada that included going to school. But, this would be short lived.
An aunt, who lived on a farm a few hours away, had suddenly died when Anastasia was 14 years old. Her mother sent her to live with her uncle, and help care for him and his five young children, one of which was a newborn baby.
Barely a teenager, she left school to clean their house, cook all meals and care for the family and animals.
“I didn’t know anything,” she remembers. “The first time I baked bread, my uncle told me it was like a rock.” But she recalled watching her mother bake it many times, “and so I just kept trying until I got it right.”
The following year her uncle remarried and Anastasia was able to move back to live with her family. But, she never returned to school.
Years later, she married and moved to Toronto to begin a new life. She volunteered with the Ukrainian community, raising funds to build St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church on Bathurst Street, among many other initiatives.
She rose to become President of the Ukrainian Canadian Council and traveled extensively in this role.
When asked what she credits her longevity to, her answer is simple. “Waking up every morning with a goal, kept my brain alive and active, and it gave me a purpose.”
Her strong faith also guided her through every experience.
“I don’t know how I didn’t go crazy,” she says. “God gave me life, and I just knew that everything that I went through, was meant for me to do.”
A positive experience with therapy turned this lawyer to become a life coach
Leanne is a lawyer and life coach.
She consults her male and female clients on separation, divorce, child support, or criminal charges.
When Leanne was 19 years old, her mother passed away. Her parents were divorced at the time, and Leanne was left to manage the household on her own.
Going to school, working, and raising her younger brother, she received finances from her father but little emotional support.
Following law school, she rose to become an Assistant Crown Attorney, specializing in domestic violence.
She got married and had 2 children, but was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and divorced 10 years later.
By day, Leanne was a tireless advocate for women. By night, she was stressed, lonely and suffering from low self-esteem.
The support that she would provide to her clients was lacking in her own life, and Leanne recognized that she was not going in a positive direction.
She found help in professional therapy and life coaching.
“Finding the right therapist turned my life around,” she says. “I started to believe in myself again and this made me want to help others rediscover who they are and empower themselves.”
Being a family lawyer, Leanne is a coach by nature, and she realized that having this as a professional skill could help her clients as well.
Many women are lost when their marriage falls apart. Not only does she help with their divorce settlements, but she also helps in rebuilding their lives.
Some women have been out of the workforce for many years and need guidance in designing a resume, or dating again and creating an on-line profile.
“Once I opened my own practice, I could focus on helping women overcome the stigma associated with divorce,” she says.
Part of her message is in telling women that it’s okay to fall, pick yourself up and rebuild.
“It’s a slow process,” she says. “But once you see change start to happen, you feel better and stronger.”
Even with her own life, she realizes that she has grown so much from the bad.
“Everyone is dealt cards in life,” she says. “To fulfill your potential you have to deal with them, and believe in yourself.”
ORT schools gave Jewish students a future in STEM
t This summer a group of World ORT alumni gathered together for the first time.
From Argentina to Israel, Uruguay to Canada, they came together to reunite as graduates of ORT schools.
Established in 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia, ORT is the largest Jewish vocational and training organization. Currently ORT operates in 37 countries with approximately 300,000 students.
Pablo Reich, himself a graduate of an ORT school in Argentina hosted the event at his home in north Toronto.
He says, “Going to university wasn’t an option for many Jewish children so the ORT environment provided a technical education. Now ORT Argentina is a popular school offering STEM training to both Jewish and non-Jewish students.”
Elly Gotz is a prominent Toronto businessman, ORT alumnus from Kovno, Lithuania and a Holocaust survivor.
As Elly explains, there were no schools to attend in the ghetto. The Jewish management asked permission from the Nazis to start a trade school.
He learned metalwork while others were trained in locksmithing, welding, cutting and drilling.
“I loved it,” he says. “I didn’t have to think about how I was going to die, I was busy and at 15 years old I was made a teacher and training other students.”
After the war, Elly attended an ORT school to learn electronics, which eventually led him to become an electrical engineer.
He says that some of his fellow ORT students and classmates have gone on to illustrious careers including a professor, dental technician and acclaimed businessman. All credit ORT for their success.
According to Lindy Meshwork, Executive Director of ORT Toronto, next steps for ORT in Canada are fundraising as well as raising awareness for their programs.
In the spring of 2019 a large gala will be held to raise funds for ORT as well as Jewish day schools.
For more information on ORT, please visit www.ort-toronto.org
Finding peace after devastating loss on September 11
Meet Cindy. On September 10, 2001 she was in New York City with her husband for a getaway weekend.
Dave was there for work, and at five months pregnant, Cindy accompanied him.
On the morning of September 11th, Cindy kissed her husband goodbye as he left their Times Square hotel room, to attend a meeting downtown.
Cindy was catching a flight that afternoon to return home to her toddler son. She planned to spend the morning in SOHO, a trendy neighbourhood in the lower part of the island.
In the taxi ride downtown, she could see smoke, billowing in the air, in the distance.
When she got out of the car, she entered a drugstore that had a radio playing the news. The White House had been evacuated, and planes flew into the Pentagon as well as both World Trade Center buildings, located just down the street from where she was standing.
More and more people poured on to the streets in sheer panic and fear. Cindy made her way back to her hotel, to wait for her husband.
He did not return that day.
The next morning, Times Square was so quiet that it felt surreal to her. This is an area of midtown known for it’s brightly lit signs, along with hoards of pedestrians and traffic.
She received a call from one of her husband’s co-workers back home. With cell towers located on top of the World Trade Center buildings, sending and receiving phone calls was a challenge.
He told her that he received an email from Dave, the day before, telling him that he was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre and to get help.
His building was the second to go down.
It has now been nearly 17 years since that horrific day that changed the lives of so many around the world.
The following January, Cindy gave birth to a boy, naming him after his father.
On the anniversary of 9/11, she has returned to New York every year with her boys to join other families for a memorial service, or volunteer back home for National Service Day.
“Every year that passed”, she says, “I was seeing New York heal as I was healing.”
She became involved with organizations like The Victims Of Crime and Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism.
In her husband’s honour, she established The David Barkway Memorial Scholarship, with funds raised from an annual golf tournament, one of Dave’s favourite activities.
Initiatives like this have helped Cindy and her family to find happiness and peace.
“It’s a process that comes one day at a time,” she says. “But, I can still see that there are a lot of good things in this life.”
Building a village for Vietnamese refugees after his family perished at sea
The first time I met Phung he modestly said, “I don’t consider myself a resilient person.”
When I learned his story of how he helped build a village for refugees in the Philippines, I couldn’t disagree with him more.
Phung was born 73 years old in Vietnam. In 1964 he came to Canada on a scholarship to study engineering at Montreal’s McGill University.
During this time, life back home became increasingly violent with the beginning of the Vietnam War followed by decades of civil unrest.
Many Vietnamese fled by sea in a harrowing escape with some making it to the shores of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. They were called, Boat People.
Eight of Phung’s family members were among those who escaped in search of freedom, but their journey would not have a happy ending. They all perished at sea.
In 1996 while operating his own consulting practice in Toronto, Phung learned of a large group of Vietnamese boat people who were living in a refugee camp on the tiny island of Palawan in the Philippines.
The Vietnamese community in Los Angeles and Australia raised $1 million to build a village for them. Phung and his wife made the decision to contribute something more personal by flying to the Philippines to help construct it.
A small team of both local and international labourers, construction managers, and members of The Church Of The Philippines joined them in Puerto Princesa.
Aside from the mere size of this group, there would be massive challenges ahead like performing heavy labour in extreme heat for 18-hour days, lack of proper machinery and transportation, poor sleeping conditions, as well as no electricity, running water or roads.
But the vision for a better life for these displaced people motivated all of them to persevere and make the village a reality.
By March of the following year, 700 people were able to move into their new homes. It was a moment of pride for everyone.
“I didn’t get paid but the return was love,” said Phung. “I worked long hours but I did not suffer. That was more meaningful and worth more than money.’”
I asked him if it was important for him to help these people because of the horrible fate of his own family.
“I’m so lucky, not like my brothers and sisters,” he said. “We felt that we had the capabilities to help these people, we had freedom.”
In 1998 Phung returned to Puerto Princesa for an anniversary celebration and shared a yearbook he had created for them. He regards his experience in Palawan as the highest achievement in his life.
In an article he recently wrote he said, “I learned that money is not everything. The joys of life are behind sacrifices, endurance, giving and receiving love.”
Phung is an example of someone who was able to take his pain and turn it into something positive for others.