A Q&A with Andrea Douglas: parent, volunteer, cancer survivor

Kitchissippi Times: You are organizing a new swimming event and fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital’s Breast Health Centre, but we want to hear a bit more about you first. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Andrea Douglas: I am a born and bred Ottawan. I grew up in the east end and my husband, Tim, grew up in the west end. So after we got married and were looking for a house, we settled on middle ground, with the number one criterion being that we had to live within walking distance of the Ottawa Bagel Shop. We’ve now lived in our “starter” home for 27 years. Over the years, I’ve been involved with the West Wellington Community Association and served on school councils in every school my two daughters attended – Elmdale, Fisher Park and Nepean H.S. I was also one of the main instigators behind the Save Our School campaign that successfully kept Elmdale (currently overflowing with enrolment) from being closed in 2000. I like to rally behind causes I believe in.

KT: You’ve also had your own experience with cancer.

AD: In 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and support I found in my friends and my community. When you first hear those words “You have cancer” you lose every ounce of strength you thought you ever had. But buoyed by the great medical system we have, and by the love of my family and friends, I was able to come back from that hellish year, rebuild my life, and find new joy and opportunity in every day.

KT: You are also helping others with their recovery. Tell us more about that.

AD: Part of what sustained me during my “journey,” was a hospital-led support group for women undergoing breast cancer treatment. I met seven ladies who remain friends today and our shared support filled with tears and laughter helped me survive and eventually thrive. After my recovery, with my girls both at university and no more school councils to work on, I naturally turned my attention to making the breast cancer journey for other women more manageable. I joined the Board of Breast Cancer Action Ottawa, became a peer support counsellor and started a breast cancer support group through BCA. I speak about my experience at hospital fundraisers and any other forum that asks. Giving back in this way is also an important part of my own healing process.

KT: How did swimming come into your life? 

AD: Both my girls swam competitively and my youngest, Annie, is a third-year varsity swimmer at Dalhousie University. It was never my idea, but they embraced it so what else could I do?! After years of watching them from the stands and officiating at swim meets, I finally decided to jump in myself and started doing Masters swimming. Early on when I was learning flip turns I think I almost drowned. And one day when my supportive daughters were in the pool with me, they were laughing so hard they almost drowned. I stopped during treatment but picked it up again a year later. Getting back in the pool helped me heal physically and mentally, and the bonus is the camaraderie of my B-Train swim group.

KT: So how did this turn into our “Olympink” event? Catchy name by the way!

AD: My lane mate John McLean was inspired by my story and wanted to give back in some way to The Ottawa Hospital’s Breast Health Centre so he dreamed up the idea of a swim meet/fundraiser. My coach, Andrea Smith, a former Olympian, jumped on board and an event was born. I am overwhelmed by the amount of work our organizing committee has put into the creation of this event on April 7– and along with the participation of six former Olympian swimmers, breast cancer survivors and regular Masters swimmers, it’s going to be a really exciting inaugural event. As for the name – full credit to my husband who just dreamed it up when I told him about the involvement of the Olympians.

KT: So there will be some swim celebs there too. Will local swim fans have a chance to meet them?

AD: Anyone who loves swimming, or sport or watching Olympians in action needs to come and cheer us on. The Hon. Catherine McKenna, herself a Masters swimmer, is going to officially start the meet at 1 p.m. (at Brewer Pool on April 7) and the first event will see our six Olympians going head to head in a “fun” individual medley event – there might be some competitive juices flowing! World record holder Annamay Pierse and Canadian record holder Mike Brown are just two of our Olympians.

KT: How can people donate? What will this money help fund? 

AD: It’s easy to donate at olympink.org. We are supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation so you’ll get a tax receipt. We would love some more corporate sponsors, and most importantly, more swimmers. We’ve got our expenses covered now so at this point, even your swim registration fees will go directly to the Breast Health Centre.

I point out to people that my story isn’t special or unusual. And maybe that’s the point. When one in eight women in Ottawa will be diagnosed with breast cancer, I hardly stand out in a crowd. That’s why we need more money for research and technology to support and enhance the work being done at the Breast Health Centre. It’s not about me. It’s about your friend, your mother, your neighbour. It’s about our community.

 Read other Q&A’s with community members right here.

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