For over three years I carried around an ugly navy binder to every appointment.
It was filled with articles, business cards, pamphlets, notes, and even parking receipts.
By the end of my husband’s brain cancer journey, it was bursting at the seams, heavy and barely able to close.
But this binder brought me comfort, knowledge and hope during a time that was very bleak.
Back in 2016, my husband Adam Fanaki was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He was 47 years old, a practising lawyer and leading a healthy life until he was told that he had glioblastoma.
The following two weeks would be a whirlwind for us.
For anyone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, every second feels like life or death. We were fighting for the former.
Adam and I contacted every healthcare worker, colleague in medicine and anyone who could point us in the right direction. That direction was called optimism.
We read every paper and article on GBM. We watched many Youtube videos from experts on the disease.
All the while fielding calls, emails and texts from family and friends on how they could help as well as parenting our two children who were in grades 9 and 12 at the time.
There was no balance. It was all about making it from one day to the next, but any help that came our way was welcomed graciously.
One of these ways came in the Neurosurgery ICU at St. Michael’s Hospital following Adam’s craniotomy.
Watching him sleep peacefully, with his head in 47 staples and bandaged up, a nurse came in and handed me a copy of the Adult Brain Tumour Handbook from the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
It would become my go-to resource for everything related to Adam’s brain cancer journey. I read it cover to cover.
Although it didn’t take the place of my binder, it did serve as a more portable resource for me.
Flash forward to 2022 and it has been over two years since we lost Adam.
At that time we established The Adam Fanaki Brain Fund to support charities like the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada in their efforts to help patients and their caregivers.
Our vision has been to help relieve some of the stress in living with a brain tumour. To date, we are proud to say that we have funded numerous programs and services including a new initiative at the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
This year they reached an important milestone when they launched a new digital app, making their essential handbooks available across different platforms and to people with varying needs.
Now users can access the handbooks as well as support chats on their smartphones and tablets in accessible formats. Information for both adults and children living with a brain tumour is available.
As this tool continues to expand, it will offer more and more resources to help patients and their caregivers.
Making this app possible for people affected by brain tumours, giving to others, and the fundraising that makes it all possible has allowed our family to heal and move forward.
We are grateful to the hundreds of donors who have supported us including Canadian business leaders such as our lead donor Davies Ward Phillips and Vineberg LLP.
The Adam Fanaki Brain Fund is honoured to be able to give back to this community.
Today I let my hair naturally dry, looking a little messy in that beachy kind of way.
I’m wearing my worn denim shorts, an old t-shirt and bare feet in the house.
Hall & Oates is playing on the record player.
The rubber gloves are on, furniture is pushed into different rooms, my pail is full of hot water and lemon cleaner.
After vacuuming the house I’m now getting ready to wash the floors and I’m stoked about it.
Today is feeling very special. The days that I do a big clean on my house I feel extra happy.
I feel like cleaning is one of the unsung heroes in the world of maintaining mental health. When I clean I don’t think much about my problems or why I didn’t sleep well the night before.
All I’m thinking about is what I’m doing at that moment.
Dragging the vacuum across the floor and carrying it up and down stairs. Going from one room to the next on a mission to suck up every dust bunny and stray hair.
And then moving to mopping takes it to the next level.
Just when I thought that my floor was clean enough from “Hoovering” all around, I start dunking my mop.
With every submerge into the soapy steamy water, seeing it get browner and dirtier, my heart begins to flutter.
Progress. That’s how I look at cleaning.
Progressing from a state of living in dust and grime to lightness of being. That clean smell and looking around at the shine is pure delight.
When I was growing up, cleaning was a daily occurrence in my mother’s house. I would help my mom pick specs of lint off of the living room rug, “Windex” the windows and shake out the bedside carpets.
And it didn’t feel like a chore. I felt like I was contributing to the system.
Nowadays it’s become too easy to outsource our home maintenance. Something that I never heard about growing up.
But when my children were small I had such a person. She is wonderful and still a close part of our family. But as time went on and our family grew, I started to miss doing the household chores and teaching my own kids the value in taking care of their home.
I may be overstating my love for cleaning but I really do feel that doing it myself brings me a bigger sense of satisfaction and happiness.
Later I’ll tackle some weeds outside and water the garden. Why limit myself to just the indoors, right?
And then I’ll grab a cold drink, sit on the back deck and smile at everything I’ve accomplished.
That feels good.
Like any other special day in the year, Father’s Day can be both happy and terribly sad for many people.
Losing one’s dad, husband or child can make this day very difficult to navigate alone.
In February 2020, I lost my husband Adam to brain cancer. He was 51 years old, the father to our two children Isobel and Sam, enjoyed a thriving practice as a respected lawyer, colleague and friend to many around the world.
Father’s Day continues to be a tricky one for me to navigate. The first year without him was really hard.
The kids and I have had to learn to manage the special days of the year in new ways.
There are many people around the globe who are missing their special someone. War, disease, estrangement or divorce are just a few examples.
I have learned to cope with special days of the year like Father's Day. It doesn't make it better, but it does make it easier.
Here are some of the things that have helped me and could help you:
If you're having a hard time as Father's Day approaches, you are not alone. Please let others know how you are feeling and let them do something nice for you.
It will help to build your resilience while also making them feel good too.
Valentine’s Day can be a minefield when you are living single.
My husband of 22 years passed away in February 2020. Despite this sad chapter in my life, it hasn’t stopped me from celebrating love and all its forms.
I’m a self-described Resilience Explorer - and lover of all things love.
Sure I might be Pollyanna, but as the pandemic moves into year 3, we all need to find ways to bring levity and joy into our lives. And celebrating the love that we have for ourselves, family and friends like our galentines and palentines is one way to do it.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money or a tonne of effort to show your love on Valentine’s Day. Here are some ideas:
And if you want to avoid the day altogether, turn off social media and the tv, and run a bath for yourself.
Janet Fanaki is the host of the RESILIENT PEOPLE is a podcast. She speaks with people around the world who are admired for their resilience. She lives in Toronto with her two adult children.
by Janet Fanaki
I just watched the tenth and final episode of ‘And Just Like That’.
Like most fans of Sex And The City, I was skeptical about watching this reboot. Would it measure up to my perfect ideal of the original? Could it even come close?
For over 23 years I have stood by Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.
My late husband Adam and I started watching the show in the late 1990s and likely saw every episode at least once.
SATC signified a timestamp in my life.
A time in the 90s and early 2000s when Adam and I were newly married, eyes were on the career track, regularly meeting friends for dinners and drinks, attending first weddings and searching for the perfect place to call home.
Sounds like any given SATC episode.
Even years later when babies started arriving, dinner dates became leftovers at the kitchen island and marriages were ending in divorce, this series still held up because our previous lives weren’t that much of a distant memory yet.
But flash forward to being in my 50s, similar to the cast of AJLT, and I can intimately relate to at least one of the characters on the show. Carrie.
Only two years ago I lost my Adam. Far too young and very comfortable in the prime of our lives.
By now nearly everyone is familiar with what happens in episode one. Big dies.
If you were watching it when the series was first released, you were like everyone else and didn’t see this plot twist coming.
Before I even had the chance to watch it, my friend Jane called to warn me about it. “No spoiler,” she said, “but Big dies and it’s pretty horrible. You may want to skip to episode 3.”
God bless Jane! Every widow needs a friend like her to send up the warning shots. A very SATC characteristic for sure.
Against Jane’s advice though, I watched the first as well as all of the episodes that followed it.
The first two were really hard because they showed Carrie moving through the days and nights of immediate grief.
I was like her in the early days of loss with the feelings of confusion, anger, tears and sleeplessness nights while she planned a funeral and tried to understand in the remaining episodes where she fits in this life again.
Sarah Jessica Parker depicts life as a new widow pretty accurately — at least in my experience.
So much happens in Carrie’s journey that mirrored my own. For example:
Naming this final episode, “Seeing The Light” was just how I felt watching it. Once she was able to put some big things behind her, Carrie was able to make a clear path forward for herself, and move into her next exciting chapter.
Janet Fanaki is the host of the RESILIENT PEOPLE podcast. She talks with regular people who have lived through a major life challenge, found a purpose from it and now help others to be resilient too. She lives in Toronto with her adult children.
Another Christmas is now behind us. With all of the presents handed out, you may want to snag something just for yourself.
Boxing Day shopping is here but what's your game plan?
I like to approach shopping - especially on Boxing Day - with a level of preparedness. Here are some ways to hit the malls and still come away happy without losing your mind.
What's in your wallet?
I learned from financial planning expert, Doris Belland, that it's really important to know our spending habits and be familiar with how much we're walking around with in our wallets. Even if its a virtual one. Christmas is an expensive time of year so don't spend more on Boxing Day unless you know you can.
Dress code in effect
As I've gotten older I've learned that its super important to factor in your dress code when walking the porcelain tiles and heated halls of the mall. Only wear a lightweight coat or sweater since they'll just get you hotter than you need to be, comfortable sneakers and leave the hat and gloves in the car because its one less thing to carry or lose.
Park at the end of the lot
I'm a big fan of parking far away from the mall's entrance. It's good for many reasons: you won't be fighting anyone for the spot, gives you a little more time in fresh air and pulling out of your space to drive away is less busy and just easier.
Don't weigh me down
Wear a crossbody bag or stylish fanny pack. You want to be handsfree especially if you're walking into the mall with a lot of returns or coming out with a big score.
Whether I'm in the car doing errands or on transit heading into town for a shopping trip I always pack a snack. The ones I favour are: nuts, a banana or Sesame Snaps because they're easy to eat on the go and tide my hunger over.
Pack your patience
Have fun with it
The term 'hit the ground running' might be okay for race time, but you've already been going full steam ahead to prepare for Christmas and the holidays for weeks. Treat Boxing Day as a pleasure and not as a challenge. Walk slowly. Really take-in the sparkly decorations that the mall designers worked hard to create for all of us. Stop when you need to and take a break.
Enjoy the day. And good luck.
Janet Fanaki is the creator of RESILIENT PEOPLE, a podcast and website which features conversations with regular but EXTRAordinary people around the world admired for their resilience. She lives in Toronto.
For those living with grief, the Christmas season can be especially difficult to navigate.
If you’re a widow, widower, have children who have lost someone close to them or a parent who has lost a child - I’m talking to you furry baby moms and dads - this article will hopefully provide you with some relatable advice.
By this point in December you’re probably feeling pretty wiped out.
On top of all of the usual Christmas items on your list that you need to check off like shopping, wrapping, baking, delivering, and trying to get a good night’s sleep - which is something that alludes me almost every night - around the world we’re dealing with a new COVID variant and having to socially distance from our friends and family once again.
It’s a lot!
Last Christmas was the first for us as a family of three. In February of 2020 my husband Adam died of brain cancer.
In roughly the same amount of time that the world has been living through a pandemic, our family has also learned to move forward with grief.
As a Resilience Explorer, I spend a lot of time speaking with people who are admired for their positive mindset and have learned strategic takeaways.
This list will provide some helpful advice for those coping with grief during the holidays, as well as friends and family wanting to help them.
When you have lost someone special, there are many special days that are hard to manage, but none as much as the holidays. Everywhere we go we are surrounded by messages of merriment and joy. Prepare yourself for the triggers that lie ahead.
Begin new traditions
Some old traditions are great to hold onto, but it’s also okay to start new ones. Include your children in a craft by stringing memorable photos to a garland. Spend time doing something that’s meaningful for you and your family.
During the holidays there are many charities that need volunteers. Not only will you be helping yourself by doing something nice but you’ll also be helping many others too.
Tap into virtual communities
BetterHelp and My Grief Angels are great go-to resources that help people living with loss to feel less alone during the holidays. BetterHelp offers professional counselors through messaging, chat, phone or video calls. This year, My Grief Angels is hosting a Christmas Day online support group.
Unplug on Christmas Day
The thought of being amongst others may seem overwhelming. There’s nothing wrong with staying at home and doing what brings you comfort. Try turning off social media, don’t watch holiday movies (the Hallmark channel is full of deceased family member story lines) and do something that brings you calm.
Those close to a grieving person can sometimes feel helpless, but they are looking for ways to support them. If this describes you, here are some tips:
One of the best ways to support a loved one who is hurting is to ensure that they are given license to speak uninterruptedly and that you listen with intent. Do not interject or take the focus away from them. Remember, you are there to help.
During this time, surround yourself with the things and people you hold dear, and who are empathetic to your wellbeing.
However you spend the holidays, I wish you good health and peace.
Christmas carries with it many mixed feelings. We are surrounded by the colours, flavours and merry messages of the season. But many are also living with grief after facing the loss of a loved one and learning to manage the triggers that come with it.
Toronto resident Janet Fanaki is a widow, Resilience Explorer and here to speak on the ways we can navigate our feelings of loss and also offer helpful tips for those who are searching for ways to help friends and family who are living with grief.
Janet lost her 51 year old husband Adam to brain cancer in February of 2020.
“The first year without him was very hard since we were all in lockdown and couldn’t gather with loved ones,” she says. “Since the children and I have learned to manage all of the special days of the year in new ways, I have some helpful advice for others new to grief.”
Some of Janet’s advice for getting through the holidays includes:
Janet Fanaki is the creator and host of the RESILIENT PEOPLE podcast where she shares conversations with regular people from around the world who are admired for their resilience. They have overcome a major challenge and found a purpose from it to help others be resilient too.
To interview Janet, contact her at email@example.com or (416) 271-7887.
I'm a firm believer that how you start your day sets the tone for the rest of the day. That includes what I eat for breakfast.
If I have something healthy and low in sugar, my brain stays clear and I don't get hungry before lunch.
Here's my recipe for homemade nut-free granola. The main reason I started making my own, is because I have a son and a brother with an anaphylactic nut allergy.
So many store-bought granolas contain nuts. I thought, "Why should Sam and Bill be left out of enjoying something so delicious?" As often as I can, I'll make my own take on a popular dish that contains nuts like granola so they're not left out of enjoying it too.
I'd argue that my granola is better than anything I've ever bought in a store.
As long as you have oats and seeds in the house, you can make granola. Most of the other ingredients are in your cupboards and fridge.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
large flake oats (4 cups)
pumpkin seeds (1 cup)
sunflower seeds (1 cup)
hemp seeds (3 tablespoons)
flax seeds (3 tablespoons)
chia seeds (3 tablespoons)
maple syrup (1/3 cup)
brown sugar (1/2 cup)
pure vanilla extract (2 tablespoons)
cinnamon (1 tablespoon)
raisins or dried currents or dried cranberries or dried blueberries (handful)
kosher salt (a couple of pinches)
Basically I do my granola to taste so if you think you need a little more or less or something, its ok to modify the recipe.
Set your oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, add the oats, all of the seeds, brown sugar and stir together. Then add all other ingredients until its combined and happy together.
On a large baking sheet pour the ingredients and spread out evenly. Pat the mixture down so that it's somewhat compact.
Once the oven comes to temperature, place the sheet on the middle rack and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden on the edges. Then, take a large fork and break up the mixture and spread down again.
Return it to the oven for another 5-8 minutes. Take out and cool on the baking sheet.
Do not break the mixture apart until it has cooled. This will help to set the mixture and give you larger clumps once its cooled.
Enjoy the granola on top of plain yogurt, as a cereal or snack.
Janet Fanaki by the famous LOVE locket wall in Toronto's Distillery District. Photo cred: Maggie Knaus (@photoat50)
"Can you talk to someone whose husband also has glioblastoma?", was the text I got from a friend. Only a few weeks later she would send me another note asking me to speak with someone else.
Within a month I met two women whose husbands were diagnosed with the same terminal illness as my husband. G. was the first, and then N.
Their questions were typical of someone fresh to the brain cancer story. They wanted to know "How is your husband doing?", "What treatments has he done?" and "How's your doctor?"
It was just three and a half years ago that I was in their shoes. Scared, exhausted and feeling isolated from the world. How could anyone understand what we're going through?
The average life expectancy with GBM is on average 14-18 months. Adam's friend had been living with it for over five years and still working, travelling and enjoying life at the time. He encouraged me to connect with his wife who he believed could help me.
I resisted for many weeks until I received a few texts and phone messages from her and decided to call her back. We spoke on the phone for over an hour. Someone who I didn't know, but knew everything I was feeling and thinking.
We still keep in-touch and my relationship with her made me promise that I would pay this act forward.
I feel it's important to have your network of support and that it should come from different sources: neighbours, close friends, therapists and those who are dealing with the same challenge as you.
It could be organized group therapy or just casually connecting the way G. and N. have with me. Some of our talks were about serious issues and others might have been just to share a funny text. But we were people who really understood each other.
Even as my husband's condition had worsened, and after he passed away, I continued to check-in with them. I wanted to be an understanding and listening ear for them, as well as to remind them that they weren't alone.
It also gave me a purpose which in turn made me feel better too.