putting our money where our heart is

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Isn’t Everyone Already “Aware” of Cancer?

cancer_more-than-ribbonA good friend of mine posted, “Everyone is aware of cancer!” She was reacting, as were countless people, to trends that have been proliferating through social media under the guise of cancer awareness. In the case of the No Make-Up Selfie, even the guise was lost as the campaign morphed from cancer awareness to a celebration of natural beauty. Are people getting so caught up in acts of “awareness” that they are ignoring the reasons behind it all?

Have you ever wondered what percentage of men who grow facial hair for Movember have actually contributed to any funds raised for the cause or to an increase of men going in for prostate exams? Or should we move our scrutinizing eyes over to that other now famous campaign involving such clever placement of men’s socks? And as entertaining as that is, there are so many more campaigns and fundraisers vying for our attention through their swag and humour. The “sexy” cancers are perhaps the biggest examples of this – anything involving a taboo area is bound to be treated with irreverence. Have you heard these clever taglines, “Save a life, grope your wife,” “Save Second Base” or “Save the Ta Ta’s?”

With so many attention-getting gimmicks, clever word plays and excuses to see men and women in and out of their underwear, I can see how these campaigns would not only get a giggle but raise a lot of money too. So what happens in September during Children’s Cancer Awareness Month? I bet the laughing stops there.

In fairness to the North Americans who confused the trend, the No Make-up Selfie originated in Europe benefiting Cancer Research UK. There are many different months in the Cancer Calendar and they vary around the globe. As campaigns go viral and international, it makes sense that something might be lost in translation.

I too thought the No Make-up Selfie was just a new trend of women who were being dared to show their natural face, just for the sake of it. When I saw an article that urged women to “put their faces back on,” I had to find out why the author was discouraging women from showing their natural selves. When I learned the reason, I thought it was fantastic that someone went out of their way to remind us that the point had not only been lost but that an important cause was being forgotten along the way.

After reviewing a series of eye-opening reactions, enlightening images and informative websites, I did eventually learn that the No Make-Up Selfie was actually an incredibly successful campaign, having raised £8m in six days.

Obviously, it’s great that people participate in discussions, awareness campaigns, events and fundraisers – even if they are silly and saucy – just don’t forget to give if you can.

It’s not hard to find a cancer organization to support but in case you’re looking – I’d like to recommend two of them. I’m currently working as the Special Events Manager at InspireHealth – Integrative Cancer Care. In describing what we do, staff have talked about the difference between treating the cancer itself and treating the person’s whole health so that they are strong enough to support the process of fighting the cancer and healing from it. In addition to supporting whatever treatment the patient is going through, we have doctors, nurses, nutritionists, exercise therapists and counsellors who are able to offer a full compliment of care.

A story that helped me to understand how our centres (there are three) help people, was about a young couple that came in together for support. They were married and just had their first child. The young wife had received a terminal cancer diagnosis. She was facing the fear of her own death. He had to come to terms with raising their child without his beloved wife. Together they feared for their daughter who would grow up without her mother. Their experience, and understanding the many ways InspireHealth is meeting their needs, beyond the immediate medical concern of treatment, was what really brought it home for me.

Donations are very welcome and we have a lot of opportunities for you to have fun and help raise money at our events in the months to come – starting with Inspire Health in April on April 5th.  A percentage of sales from our “Inspired Shopping List” at seven Choices Market locations will go to InspireHealth.  I’ll continue to share news of our events as they happen.

Earlier this year I worked for the Canadian Cancer Society to help recruit volunteers for the April Daffodil Campaign. Volunteer canvassers will be hitting the pavement all over Canada collecting donations. You can give at your door or online. I’ve started my own virtual canvassing and you can even make a donation on my very own page.

Happy Pink Monday!


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Donate Your Voice

"One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn't exist... Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist." Stephen Hawking

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist… Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.” Stephen Hawking

I’ve imagined what it would be like to lose a limb, not be able to walk or draw, or to lose my hearing or my sight. I’ve even imagined what it would be like to have cancer and lose my hair. Until a few weeks ago, I had never thought about what it would be like to lose my voice. I heard an interview on CBC radio with Dr. Rupal Patel and they were discussing the creation of prosthetic voices for people who have suffered from a severe and permanent speech or voice impairment.

You’ve probably heard the synthetic voice Stephen Hawking uses to communicate. He was approximately 38 years old when his speech began to deteriorate so badly that he could no longer be understood except by those who knew him closely. He has a motor neuron disease but this wasn’t entirely the cause of his voice loss. When he was 43 he nearly died from pneumonia and the experience resulted in a tracheotomy. What was left of his already impeded speech, was lost entirely. It was then that he began to use the computer program that produces his voice as we know it today.

I came to know of him in 1991 because of the documentary based on his book, A Brief History of Time. There’s also a 2013 documentary about his life, simply named Hawking which is on my to-watch list.

Did you know that he was born in England? What must it have been like for him never to have had the option to chose a voice with a British  accent, let alone one that might actually sound like him? At the time he didn’t have a choice and now that he does, he doesn’t want to change it. He’s used to it and relates to it now.

The voice he uses is no longer produced and thanks to voice donations, more options are now available. There’s still the trouble of getting it just right though. Variety is the key and some voices are needed more than others, particularly for children, elderly, and people with a variety of accents. In a way, a voice is like a fingerprint, as Dr. Patel puts it. You should really hear her explain the idea in her own voice and you can do so in this TED talk.

Imagine losing your voice. You could access a voice bank and speak again but it wouldn’t sound like you. How surreal would it be to try and express yourself with someone else’s voice? You can actually bank your own voice but if that’s not something you’re too worried about, you could still donate your voice to be used by someone like you who is searching through voice samples right now, trying to find the closest match to their own personality and how they speak. To create a customized voice for someone, a donor must speak approximately 3200 utterances, or record their voice for about four hours.

I actually signed up to do it myself, but at the moment, despite it being Dr. Patel’s dream that a voice bank be created with donors from all over the world, they don’t have the resources to respond to every donor just yet. You can learn more about the project at  VocalID, pronounced by Dr. Patel as “vocality.”

“In the United States alone, there are 2.5 Million Americans with severe speech impairments many of whom rely on computerized voices to express themselves. Yet many of them use the same voices as there are only a few options. That’s tens of millions of people world wide using generic voices. VocaliD (for vocal identity) aims to help children and adults with severe speech impairment find a voice of their own!”

If you’re interested in supporting the project, they are looking for voice donors, technical and business expertise, and of course, financial support.

Happy Pink Monday!


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Questioned Stats Encourage Positive Debate


While trying to verify these stats, I learned so much more about women working around the globe!

This past Saturday was International Women’s Day and so I dedicated some time to reading up on women’s issues around the globe and participating in a dialogue with friends on Facebook. I’ll blame starting a new job for not being more active this year. Last year I asked friends to vote on a woman’s organization to donate to and through the act of listing the worthy causes, I’d like to think my friends and I helped raise awareness of groups dedicated to helping women locally and internationally.  I donated to the most chosen organization (Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter) and some friends matched my donations as well. I was able to reference that list this year when a friend asked me for advice on women’s groups to give second-hand items to.  I’ll include the list at the end of this post.

While I wasn’t involved in a fundraiser or specific awareness campaign this year, I still found the time spent reading featured articles of the day very enlightening. Two things struck me, 1) that people still argue as to whether or not we need International Women’s Day, and 2) that in many countries and possibly on average around the globe, women are the majority sex in the work-force.

One of the articles I read was called “Why Do We Need International Women’s Day?” which I found on Linkedin. I really enjoyed the article. What I found disturbing were many of the comments. Why do I read comments? They always get my back up! One man wrote that advancement of women means that men will be displaced. Once again, I found myself wondering what planet I was born on and why now?  Why on earth couldn’t I have been born 300 years from now?  Assuming of course more time and evolution will solve all of our problems 😉

I believe the advancement of women will only benefit all of us, women AND men. And to the many people who are still asking why we need the day, I think the info-graphic at the top of this post goes a long way to answering that question. Well, that is of course, if it’s true!

I’d hate to be proliferating false statistics so I wanted to address the issue of verification.  I found it shared on many websites and on this one in particular,, the author had this to say, “I have copied it from others (we bildegooglet it and it has been used in many places, but none provide any real source) but the statistics are UN figures and are included here.” (Please note, the website had a lot of interesting and provocative articles and I encourage you to check it out – just know that you have to right click and translate to English as it’s a Norwegian site.)

The “here” in the link above is to UN Women where you can lose many hours, as I did, to their wealth of articles. While this article didn’t specifically defend the above info-graphic line by line, it did reveal statistics that I had never read before. I wanted more information about this line,

“Women are half the world’s
population, working two thirds
of the world’s working hours.”

I sought to find evidence of this and there were several references to this on UN Women.  These are some of the statistics I found that bolster that claim (all of which are credited on the site):

  • In some regions, women provide 70 percent of agricultural labour and produce more than 90 percent of the food
  • In Cambodia, more than 90 percent of garment workers are women
  • Women constitute 50 percent or more of migrant workers in Asia and Latin America
  • Women constitute around 60–80 percent of the export manufacturing workforce in the developing world
  • In export processing zones in the Philippines 80 percent of workers are women
  • In Nicaragua’s export processing zone, female labour is prevalent

Anecdotally, I can tell you that women were the majority by far in my last three workplaces (charitable sector) and I live in Canada so it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to consider how this might be true in the developing world. Of course, on the other side of the dirham, in the Arab states, women constitute only 28% of the workforce.

Setting aside that debate for now – and if anyone can shed more light on this to either defend or dispute the stats in question, “I look forward to your letters,” as Craig Ferguson would say – I’d like to share a few more links I came across on March 8th:

And lastly, my list of organizations that support women locally in Vancouver’s lower mainland and internationally as well (some offer support to men AND women while others are dedicated to women only):

Happy Pink Monday!


P.S.  Another great stat from UN Women:

“If the average distance to the moon is 394,400 km,
South African women together walk the equivalent
of a trip to the moon and back 16 times a day
to supply their households with water.”

P.S.S.  That link to the YWCA article on Women Who Lead also has an amazing info-graphic with fantastic quotes, my favorite of which was:

“Work hard, step up and speak up, and speak out on things that matter.”
Janet Austin, CEO, YWCA Metro Vancouver

Ok, bye this time! Really, for real.
Theresa 🙂

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You May Say I’m A Dreamer

“A measure of society is how we treat our weakest members.”

This has been said by many different people over time – Gandhi, Jimmy Carter, Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Dostoyevsky, Truman, to name just a few.

At first I avoided reading the articles in circulation about Vince Li. I kept seeing comments on facebook about his upcoming unsupervised day trips. I finally decided to dive into it this past weekend. First I read the article my friend had posted and then I read all 58 comments in the thread that followed about whether or not he should be allowed to walk free. Most of the people who commented did not think he should enjoy any freedom ever again. I went on to read more articles. I could only read some of the comments at the bottom of those articles. It’s difficult to read so many hateful remarks. Before I published this post, I also read the victim impact statements of Tim McLean’s mother, sister and father (bottom of linked page). Their pain and suffering will never be undone. Still, I wanted to know more about schizophrenia. I read through the pages on the website of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada. I decided to make a donation. Then I made a matching donation to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.

I can’t argue with Tim McLean’s family about Vince Li. This was a tragedy beyond measure. Who am I to say what decision should be made in this case? What prompted me to write this post was an interest in deepening understanding about schizophrenia. Further to that, I wanted to write about vengeance because I’ve been reading more opinions about vengeance than about justice.

I added my own comment to the facebook debate:

“Ok, been meaning to catch up on this for days! Read everything. Not an expert on mental illness by any means but I’m not much for the whole “an eye for an eye” philosophy. I personally believe that no matter what another person does, your response should be consistent with your personal values – and for me that means that I don’t believe in harming people, I believe in helping people. I believe Vince Li deserves to be helped. I believe that if all people held this philosophy, the world would be a better place. I truly deep down to my guts believe this. I think that as a society we should respond to “broken people” by fixing them. He has schizophrenia and he is a victim too. I wish him all the best in his recovery. I truly do. Not only does he have this illness to live with, he will be in his own kind of hell every day of his life for what he has done. I think he deserves kindness and I think that if people can be kind to those who have done the worst you can imagine, that our civilization will flourish.”

I was expecting to be attacked in the comments to follow mine but I was surprised to see comments made by people who seem to have an understanding of mental illness and was relieved to see that a link to another article expressing a similar opinion was also posted.

Do I think Vince Li will re-offend? I honestly don’t know. Do I think they are making the right decision to give him unsupervised day trips at this time? I’m really not sure about that either. But what I do think is that schizophrenia is real and treatable. I think that people who suffer from it can be helped and should be helped. He’s been in treatment since 2008. His care team trusts him. I know that for some, Vince Li could only pay the price for what he did through equally brutal loss of his own life. For someone suffering with schizophrenia, what right do they have to recover and return to a healthy life? I think that’s why this case is so intriguing – it’s so extreme that it tests our ideas of what is right, ethical and just.

When I made my donation online, I was able to add comments. I wrote this: “I don’t have a lot of money to give but have been involved in a debate about Vince Li. I wanted to make a gesture in support of what you are doing to help people with Schizophrenia.” There was also a field where you could make a dedication. I chose to make my donation in memory of Tim McLean. I also decided to do what I could to raise awareness about schizophrenia through this post.

I know a few people who suffer from mental illnesses. I know someone who has schizophrenia. Even though I won’t mention his name, I still won’t share any personal details of his life, but believe me when I tell you they would break your heart. I would encourage anyone who has been engaged in this debate to not only read the articles about Vince Li but to take this opportunity to learn more about Schizophrenia.

“Schizophrenia is an extremely complex mental illness: in fact it is probably many illnesses masquerading as one. A biochemical imbalance is believed to cause symptoms. There is as yet no cure, but there are good and effective schizophrenia treatment options, and recovery of a quality of life is possible.”

The FAQ on this website is an excellent place to start. The answer to question #10 really struck me:

Q: Why don’t people with schizophrenia seek help for themselves?
A: There may be a variety of reasons why a person with schizophrenia does not seek mental health help, including lack of insight due to the illness; the brain is not functioning as it should; it cannot “tell” the person what is wrong. Also, society’s prejudices about mental illness discourage people from disclosing their symptoms and seek schizophrenia treatment. There is fear of the mental disorders stigma and subsequent rejection and isolation.

Vince Li’s case is allowing for some very important conversations to happen. This story is bringing light to the greater issue of mental illness and as a result I hope it will bring society to a new level of awareness about people who suffer from mental illness. Perhaps some of us will realize that we are part of the problem – that our ignorance is actually a contributing factor to incidents like the one at the very heart of this debate. Perhaps if mental illness wasn’t so stigmatized, Vince Li could have asked for help and this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.

“Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders – especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment.” Facts About Mental Illness and Violence

Many of the comments I read made me sad. Many people think Vince Li should get the death penalty. Someone even wrote that they thought that people on his side should experience what it’s like to raise a child and have him brutally murdered before they decide whether or not Vince Li should be free. Some don’t believe that his mental illness was the reason he did what he did. I believe it was and I can’t imagine what life must be like for him now. What happened to Vince Li could happen to anyone with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is not something only “bad” people get. It’s a disease and it doesn’t discriminate. Can you imagine what it would be like to recover from a schizophrenia induced psychotic state and have to deal with the fact that you brutally murdered someone? Is Vince Li not also a victim?

“A measure of society is how we treat our weakest members.” This has been said by many different people over time – Gandhi, Jimmy Carter, Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Dostoyevsky, Truman, to name just a few.

While commenting on that thread, trying to communicate the idea that as a society we have a responsibility to care for people with mental illness and that in doing so, we are stronger for it, the words to John Lennon’s Imagine came to mind – in particular, this line, “You may say I’m a dreamer.” It’s such a beautiful song:


Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon

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Thank you to everyone who reads this post. Please forward it or share it if you liked it and please comment. Keep the discussion going.