Skip to main content

'Mary Poppins' for moms who have cancer

By Marissa Calhoun, CNN
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nanny Angel Network provides free in-home childcare for mothers with cancer
  • A breast cancer survivor, Guth met moms suffering from the disease while raising children
  • Guth's nonprofit provides them with "nanny angels" to help take care of the kids
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2014 CNN Heroes

Toronto (CNN) -- It was confirmation of her worst fears: The lump Audrey Guth found on her breast turned out to be cancer.

"When you get the news that you have cancer, as a mom your life turns upside down," Guth said. "The first thing you think about (is) your children."

Fortunately for Guth, her adult children could support themselves while she underwent treatment. But she quickly learned that not all mothers were as lucky.

"I saw so many moms sitting there with their children on their laps, pulling their clothing," Guth said. "I thought, 'This is not a place for children.' "

The Nanny Angel Network has helped over 300 mothers in and around Toronto since 2008.
The Nanny Angel Network has helped over 300 mothers in and around Toronto since 2008.

With a background running a nanny agency, Guth knew she could help. In 2008, she started the Nanny Angel Network, a nonprofit that provides free in-home childcare for mothers who have cancer.

"Mothers who are diagnosed with cancer are caregivers who suddenly find themselves in need of care," said Guth, 59. "Our program allows mothers the freedom to take a rest, because that's what they need the most to get better."

Since 2008, her organization has helped more than 300 moms in and around Toronto.

'Nanny Angels' to the rescue

Guth's program is staffed by a team of volunteers who have professional backgrounds in childcare. Many of them are cancer survivors.

"Our program allows mothers the freedom to take a rest, because that's what they need the most to get better."
Audrey Guth

Nearly half of the moms they help are single parents. It's one of the many reasons she believes the organization is so important.

"When you're a single mom, your income is decreased, and you often can't afford childcare," Guth said.

It's a challenge Shauna Barnett knows all too well. A single mother to a 4-year-old son, Barnett has battled stage 2 breast cancer since September. She underwent a double mastectomy and aggressive chemotherapy to treat her disease.

"If I'm having a bad day, sometimes I can't lift my head off the pillow," said Barnett, 38. "As a mother, I feel so bad to have to say to my son, 'Please go play with your toys so mommy can rest.' He's only 4, he doesn't understand."

Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2014 CNN Heroes

Once a week, Barnett and her son, Deshaun, get a visit from someone who does understand: Deshaun's "nanny angel," Ruth Van Es.

"We bake cookies and cakes. When it's warm, we walk to the park. (We) play board games, read books," said Van Es, a cancer survivor. "The main thing is to keep their minds off of the cancer and what is happening to mum. I feel like Mary Poppins."

Barnett recently underwent her last round of chemo and says doctors have given her a positive prognosis. She is grateful to Guth's program for making her cancer journey easier.

"The Nanny Angel Network is a Godsend," Barnett said. "When Ruth comes to my home, it's such a huge relief to have a chance to rest."

Cancer changes everything

Last year, Guth expanded her services to help families with end-of-life care.

"When there is a death, we stick around to be there for the kids," Guth said. "This is so essential for the child who just lost their mother and is trying to cope with that."

Ultimately, Guth hopes her efforts give families the peace of mind that their children will be cared for during a difficult time.

"Cancer changes everything for you and for your entire family," she said. "What we do won't take away their illness, but it will certainly make their journey a lot easier."

With her own cancer now in remission, Guth considers herself lucky, and she plans to keep paying her good fortune forward to more moms in need.

"When we get the call that says, 'I finished my chemo' or 'my nanny angel came today, and my child had the best time,' that's when we say, 'Yes, we're really making a difference.' "

Want to get involved? Check out the Nanny Angel Network website at www.nannyangelnetwork.com and see how to help.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 0303 GMT (1103 HKT)
Chad Pregracke, who has dedicated his life to cleaning the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways, is the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year.
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 0256 GMT (1056 HKT)
CNN Hero of the Year Chad Pregracke pledged to give $10,000 of his winnings to each of the other top 10 Heroes.
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
Celebrities joined CNN in New York to honor this year's top 10 Heroes.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
They clean up rivers, build homes for disabled veterans and bring health care to some of the darkest parts of the world.
October 16, 2013 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
It was supposed to be a routine patrol in Iraq. But when the Humvee he was in veered slightly off the road, Dale Beatty's life changed forever.
November 3, 2013 -- Updated 2346 GMT (0746 HKT)
Dr. George Bwelle travels through Cameroon's jungles to provide free medical care for thousands.
October 21, 2013 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
Many Americans lack easy access to fresh, healthy food. That isn't acceptable to Robin Emmons.
October 28, 2013 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Foster children don't often get the things that other children do, but one group is trying to help change that.
November 6, 2013 -- Updated 2325 GMT (0725 HKT)
For many people, the violence in Camden, New Jersey, can make it feel more like a war zone than an American city.
November 13, 2013 -- Updated 2144 GMT (0544 HKT)
For many children fighting cancer, it can be extremely tough to make their chemotherapy appointments.
November 11, 2013 -- Updated 0047 GMT (0847 HKT)
When Kakenya Ntaiya was 14, she negotiated a deal with her father: I'll endure female circumcision if you let me finish high school.
November 18, 2013 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Chad Pregracke has made it his life's mission to clean up the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways.
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Estella Pyfrom noticed that fewer students had access to a computer after school. So she bought a bus and brought technology to the kids.
October 13, 2013 -- Updated 2339 GMT (0739 HKT)
In many countries, mothers are dying during childbirth -- not because they lack skilled doctors, but because they lack reliable electricity.
ADVERTISEMENT