Darwin recently turned 21, graduated high school, rang the end of treatment bell at CHEO and has been accepted into an Academic Assistance for Adults with Developmental Disabilities (AAADD) college program.
What was most exciting about ringing the bell?
I loved seeing all my favourite people from high school virtually on Google Meet. I saw Ms. Russett, and Ms. Coe, and the ladies in the office. All my favourite nurses came too. They helped me learn to count “1-2-3” before I had a needle!
What are you most looking forward too now that you are 21? I want to learn how to use a debit card and get a job where I can wear a nametag and a vest. I want to work at Walmart at cash register #7 and at the Apple store.
What will you do in your C.I.C.E. college program? I will learn to take the bus with my phone, using Google maps. I want to learn about money math. At college I will see my friends and they have nice lockers.
Any shout outs to friends & family?
Thank you to my mom, she’s The Boss and always came to CHEO with me. The staff on 4 North were awesome. The Fire Safety Officer, Richard, came to teach me the rules about fire safety. I also did a FaceTime with Liam from the Ottawa Fire Dept. about river safety. I loved seeing my CHEO teacher, Ms. Nancy. She’s awesome and I learned to use assistive technology. Every day I wrote a page in my book with Book Creator.
What is OSAP? The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is a mix of loans and/or grants funded by the provincial and federal government to help you pay for post-secondary school. The program is open to full-time and part-time students.
How do I know if I am eligible for OSAP? While many of our clients say they are not eligible for OSAP because their parents’ income is too high, we recommend using the OSAP Aid Estimator to estimate what you could receive. Many clients are surprised that they are actually eligible. Plus, even if you are only eligible for $1, this may allow you to access other types of funding. Individuals with disabilities, for example, may be eligible for more grants, such as the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment (CSG-DSE) and/or the Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD). A doctor or neuropsychologist must complete an “OSAP Disability Verification Form” for you. Your POGO Transitions Counsellor can help facilitate this.
*TIP: If an estimate is not yet available for your school year, try using the previous year or try again in the spring.*
I don’t want any loans after post-secondary school. Why would I apply for OSAP? If you are eligible for grants, you can request that you receive the “Grant Only Funding,” essentially meaning that you’ll receive grants but not the loan portion of OSAP. Typically you do not have to pay back grants. However, this would change if you are not taking the minimum course load, you decide to withdraw from your program or if your application is reassessed to show underrepresented income, for example. Speak with your financial aid office in advance if you’d like the “Grants Only Funding.” See the OSAP Aid Estimator link above to see if you would be eligible for grants.
I need the loans portion of OSAP to pay for school, but I’m worried I won’t be able to pay these back after I graduate. What are my options? First, repayment of student loans has been a little bit easier these past few years with interest on federal loans being waived for the COVID-19 pandemic. This was set to expire on March 31st, 2023; however, at the time of this writing, the Canadian government recently passed a Bill to eliminate this interest permanently. Remember, this does not apply to provincial loans, and some interest will still be accrued.
You also may be eligible for the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP). Your eligibility is based on your family size and income. There are two stages: “Interest Relief” and “Debt Reduction.” For “Interest Relief,” the government may pay some or all of the interest accrued on your loan. For “Debt Reduction,” they will either lower or eliminate the required monthly payments for six months. You must apply for RAP through the National Student Loans Service Centre (NSLSC) and reapply every six months.
Applying for OSAP can be overwhelming and stressful, so don’t hesitate to contact your POGO Transitions Counsellor, who can help you better understand the process or connect you with your school’s financial aid office.
From the Perspective of a Childhood Cancer Survivor – Leigha Bartholomew
Leigha Bartholomew, childhood cancer survivor
Being a childhood cancer survivor, I know what it is like to fall behind in school. Months of my schooling were spent in a hospital and attending weekly medical appointments. I began to feel overwhelmed thinking I’d never be able to catch up or that I wasn’t doing as well as my peers. It was never expected that I would be at the same level as everyone else while I was going through treatment, at the time I believed I just wasn’t good enough. I’m sure a lot of cancer survivors have felt the same way at one point or another.
I had a similar feeling when post-secondary schools introduced a virtual learning environment in the midst of the pandemic. I started noticing a shift in my capabilities. A new learning atmosphere meant new challenges that I couldn’t adapt to as quickly as I had in the past. Attending classes became more difficult, focusing on work and remembering to finish assignments on time developed into more of an issue than it had been just a few months before, and my motivation to be involved in class discussions decreased. On top of that, I couldn’t bring myself to speak with my professors over Zoom about the challenges that I was facing. It seemed like I was in a rut and I didn’t know how to pull myself out.
My ADHD diagnosis came just a few months after we started learning virtually. While I was familiar with ADHD, I was surprised to learn that I had the disorder myself. Adding this on top of the other issues I had with mental health (I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in high school) was not something I had even considered, especially so far into my education. If someone were to look at my grades, I bet they wouldn’t have considered it either. Luckily, I didn’t have to go through these challenges all on my own.
Because mental health and learning disabilities pose a challenge for a number of young people, there are resources that have been put into place by schools to help students get through their education. In post-secondary school, there are learning strategists or assistive/adaptive technologists for students seeking academic support. Your academic advisor is also available to help you find programs or services tailored for your specific challenges.
Being a childhood cancer survivor can further complicate things. While some survivors may already be predisposed to having mental health and learning challenges, others can develop them due to the treatments they received or other related factors and experiences. These issues can also continue into adolescence and adulthood. Since most people working in pediatric oncology are aware of these challenges, there are specific resources available to survivors and their families. POGO AfterCare Clinic professionals, such as counsellors, art therapists, clinical psychologists and social workers are some of the resources available to help cancer survivors develop strategies related to the difficulties they might be facing with school or everyday life, and POGO School and Work Transitions Counsellors can help you to access these various resources!
My advice to fellow survivors would be to understand that you are not alone if you find yourself struggling. I am sure a lot of people can relate to me when I say that I prefer in-person schooling over the virtual classroom, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less scary having to make the transition. If my own experiences have taught me anything, it’s that everyone has a different style of learning. If you need help, reach out. No matter how difficult things might seem, there are always people and programs available to students and survivors if they need help.
Port is part of a triptych* of self-portraits about my memories from when I had cancer at age 14. A lot of medical experiences and journeys can result in feeling dehumanized, objectified. Port focuses on the wires and tools, with no identifying features of the figure. The background contains scans of old documentation from my own treatment. Though it’s a drawing of myself, the sense of identity is purposefully removed. It reflects my feelings of emotional detachment. Essentially, it’s an attempt to capture that strange dissociation that occurred while I was in treatment.
*Artwork made up of three pieces or panels
Holly is a recent graduate of Seneca College’s illustration program. They find solace in expressing thoughts through line. You can find more of their work at congercine.com.
Austin: What was it like battling cancer as a young teen?
Eloise: I was 14 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer, just weeks shy of starting my Grade 10 year. I was already trying to grapple with big questions like, “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to become?” I was busy navigating life and all things that “normal” teenagers experience. Then, on top of this quest for identity, I was suddenly confronted with a life-threatening illness. I felt overwhelmed, confused and defeated. I had no idea how to react or how to feel. There is no better way to describe it than an absolute rollercoaster of emotions.
In my opinion, the fundamental difference between young kids going through cancer and teens, is their sense of awareness. Unlike many young kids next to me on the 8th floor of SickKids, I KNEW something was wrong. Actually, I knew EXACTLY what was wrong. I had cancer—a disease I never imagined I would have, especially at 14.
Many brave young children I encountered accepted this painful journey with a sense of “normalcy.” Despite all they were going through, they maintained their positivity and love for life. This was something I could not mirror—not for lack of trying. I wanted to exude the same level of strength, courage and positivity as many of those children but I was keenly aware of my painful, frustrating and exhausting journey with cancer. People sometimes forget that teenagers are far closer to identifying as adults than they are to children, yet, they are unique and require a certain approach to their care.
Austin: In what ways does your journey with cancer still impact you today?
Eloise while undergoing treatment
Eloise: Despite being cancer-free for nearly eight years, my journey through survivorship has been far from easy. Cancer continues to influence many areas of my life, both positively and negatively. On a professional level, I have built a career inspired by my experience. The Good Hood Club is a loungewear company that champions childhood cancer care, most notably by donating 50% of its profits to childhood cancer organizations like POGO. Given my journey and fortune with cancer, I constantly seek ways to give back. The Good Hood Club has provided me with a vehicle to do that.
Although cancer is a “distant memory,” the emotional turmoil it sparked is not. Daily, I battle anxiety primarily linked to having had cancer as a teen. This has been an ongoing challenge for me; however, I am committed to finding ways to help me manage it. More abstractly, cancer has taught me many invaluable life lessons. Undoubtedly, my biggest takeaway has been my appreciation and love for life.
Austin: How did you decide to start Good Hood Club as a business and how did you come up with the name?
Eloise: While studying commerce at Queen’s, I took a digital marketing class in my 3rd year. One of the projects required us to create an e-commerce-based business from scratch. While most of our classmates saw this as merely a school project, my group saw it as an opportunity to do something good. My best friend, Chloe, and I wanted to create something meaningful. We thought, “What can we sell that will do good?” Our answer, “Hoods.” We also wanted people to feel part of a more significant community, a club. Hence the name, Good Hood Club.
Eloise in her navy Good Hood hoodie
Austin: What does Good Hood Club mean to you, both on a personal and a professional level?
Eloise: On a professional level, I could not have asked for a better way to dive into the workforce. I have gathered experience across various areas. I have had unparalleled hands-on experience in marketing, operations, strategy, manufacturing, finance…you name it! I am incredibly grateful for the experience Good Hood Club has given me to date. Over time, I hope to watch the company grow, continuing to touch the lives of those battling childhood cancer.
On a personal level, Good Hood Club has been an invaluable healing method. The easiest way to deal with my pain is by transforming it into purpose. Good Hood Club has allowed me to do this, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Austin: Do you think as a survivor of childhood cancer that there are enough support systems in place to help families and children?
Eloise: I think that there is always room for improvement. However, I am eternally grateful for the help and support I have received over my journey. The childhood cancer community is filled with exceptional individuals who have made invaluable contributions to the community. I would love to see additional resources in the realm of psychosocial support. For me, mental health has been a massive part of my journey with cancer; however, it has not necessarily been a massive part of my care. In my experience, cancer has been just as much a mental health disease as a physical one; yet, it is not treated as such. I hope for a future where both aspects are equally prioritized in cancer care protocols, right from the beginning.
Austin: Do you have any advice for young adults that survived childhood cancer that are struggling to find a career that will be fulfilling for them?
Eloise: It is easy to get caught up in what you think you want and should do versus exploring what you truly want and were meant to do. As a business student, I was on a path to a corporate career. I thought that was what I wanted. The second I took the opportunity to try new things and explore, I uncovered newfound passions I wanted to pursue. My advice would be to always experiment and try. Don’t stay committed to one path until you have taken the opportunity to see what else you might want to explore.
Eloise founded Good Hood Club with her university best friend, Chloe, to make their love for hoodies more meaningful and promote comfort during stressful times. 50% of Good Hood earnings go to POGO (Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario) and their mission to achieve the best childhood cancer care system for children, youth, survivors and their families in Ontario and beyond.