This article was originally published in the 2020 Spring issue of Invest In Style Magazine.


Michael Friedman was 16 years old in 2012, when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of cancer that forms in soft tissue. From the beginning, Michael took his diagnosis in stride and began a 198-day treatment plan at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. Initially, treatment went well for Michael and he even managed to continue his grade 12 studies. Then, halfway through his seven-month course of chemo, things changed.



Michael’s resolve began to wane as he experienced physical symptoms that affected his mental health.


“I had an amazing team of nurses, oncologists, and physicians, and the physical effects of my cancer journey were successful,” he says; but he felt he could have used more support for “my emotional and mental health.”



That experience would be shared by 17-year-old Carley Elle Allison and her family when Carley was diagnosed in 2013 with clear-cell sarcoma of the trachea, an extremely rare cancer. Like Michael, she began her battle with incredible grace and strength. But then, explains Riley Allison, Carley’s older sister, “it becomes about chemo, radiation and surgery, and unfortunately, daily methods of self-care go out the window. We wanted Carley’s journey to be different.” Carley and her family explored nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness practices to help maintain Carley’s mental health and overall wellness.



Despite a valiant battle, that journey would come to an end when Carley passed away on March 31, 2015.


“My sister was an incredible person whose story inspires so many people. Her motto was to always smile, and to never lose hope. Carley was open about her cancer experience and shared her story with others. When she passed away, we knew we wanted her story to continue.”


So, Carley’s Angels was formed, with Riley as Executive Director. Since 2015, the organization has worked to raise funds to fulfill their mission to unite traditional methods and holistic treatments, in hospitals, and to support a whole-person approach to cancer care.


In 2019, Carley’s Angels partnered with SickKids Foundation to fund the first Psychosocial Oncology Fellowship of its kind at the hospital. In her capacity as Fellow, social worker Shawna Markowitz assesses and monitors children’s academic, emotional, spiritual and practical needs, and offers care through counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation strategies, parent education and mindfulness. Forty percent of her time is spent on research, program development and delivery, as she works to better understand the gaps in patient care and how best to address them. Shawna is part of a larger team of allied health professionals who contribute to the interdisciplinary care that patients and families receive at SickKids. These include child life specialists, psychologists, psychiatrists, chaplains, oncologists, and resource navigation.



The program is proving a success and Carley’s Angels says that working with SickKids is like a breath of fresh air, describing them as innovative and excited to participate. Carley’s Angels plan to continue to reach out to more hospitals.


“As someone who experienced cancer first hand, this program is something I fully support,” says Michael, whose cancer has been in remission since his treatment ended seven years ago. “Early recognition of mental health and wellness issues, by a professional, will complement a patient’s traditional treatment and offer tremendous support.”

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