BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Helen became involved in the childhood cancer world when her son, Liam, was just a baby and was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma. She knew that children got cancer but could have never imagined what a crazy world it is and how many children and families are affected. When Liam was on treatment, Helen often felt alone in her hometown of Waterloo and wanted to connect to other parents who were in a similar situation. When Liam was finished treatment, Helen started a parent support group in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Once she started the group, she became aware of OPACC and loved what they stood for and how they helped the whole family. Helen is now a teacher, parent to two wonderful children and supporter of anything that helps families who are faced with cancer.
Lisa Skinner joined OPACC in September 2007 when her son, Cole, was in treatment for very high risk A.L.L. He is now 15 years old and a "survivor". She and Cole, along with partner Pierre and daughter Sarah, have enjoyed participating in Camp Trillium over the past five years. Lisa knows first-hand how important it is for parents to support each other during and after a child's cancer diagnosis. Also in 2007, she and Helen Robertson started a support group for parents in the Kitchener Waterloo area. The K-W parents support group meets monthly every second Tuesday at HopeSpring Cancer Support Centre from 7:00 - 8:30 pm. She has attended both the fall and spring POGO conferences on behalf of OPACC and plans to continue her involvement in the years to come.
Lead Parent Liaison
Susan, OPACC's Parent Liaison at Sick Kids Hospital, is the married mother of 2 beautiful daughters. In 1995 her younger daughter was diagnosed with a renal cell carcinoma, and so, she entered the world of pediatric oncology on a personal level. Today her daughter is a healthy long term survivor. With her background in healthcare she was asked by Sick Kids to develop the role of parent liaison in 1996. Susan is active in the childhood cancer community working together with OPACC since 1996.
As well she has worked and continues to work with OPACC's partners including but not only POGO as a Board member, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care Parent Cluster co-chair, Childhood Cancer Foundation Candlelighters Canada, HSC, Smiling Eyes, Coast to Coast and Lainie's Angels. Susan works to educate, advocate, support and enable families along their childhood cancer journey by working directly with families and caregivers on a regular basis. In particular Susan wants to thank OPACC for working to make her role a reality as well as the many families whom she is privileged to work with.
Sarai joined the OPACC team in 2011. Her current role within OPACC as Administrative Coordinator involves managing all aspects of the day to day running of the organization, helping with event planning, serving as the main point of contact for other organizations and the general public, writing, managing the website, social media pages, and emails, and developing communications materials via print and electronic media, among other responsibilities. She is fully bilingual in English and Spanish, having been raised near Miami, Florida before moving to Canada in 2000. Sarai graduated Magna Cum Laude from SUNY Buffalo and holds an Honours B.A. in History. She resides in Barrie with her husband and daughter.
Stathi Afendoulis, MA, is the founding Executive Director of Lainie's Angels, a foundation that provides peer mentoring support to families of children with cancer and blood disorders. Established in memory of his daughter, Lainie, the foundation provides assistance through parent advocate programs in hospitals and online. Over the last twelve years, Stathi has directed the expansion of Lainie's Angels' mission of parent advocacy through education, outreach and fundraising. Currently, the foundation oversees four programs at children's hospitals in the United States and Canada, and is organizing volunteer training with the far-reaching vision of making family care programs the norm at every hospital and organization providing medical care to children with serious disease.
Stathi is an educator and entrepreneur, with degrees in English and Theater and Performing Arts. He has worked professionally as a theater director and administrator; a professor of English, Theater and Communications; and a successful business owner in the retail clothing industry. He is the co-author of "The Grieving Garden: Living with the Death of a Child" (Hampton Roads Publishing Company), and the author of many essays and blogs dealing with the effects of pediatric cancer and blood disorders on children and families.
Anna Lopes is a full-time property/warehouse Manager for a large printing company in Markham for over 25 years. She is a very compassionate and caring person who is full of life and love. Her greatest passion in life is to make a difference and to touch the hearts of all children that need a simple hug. She is also very creative in event planning and making magical moments happen. She is the founder of a non-profit organization called "Million Dollar Smiles…Giving back to Society," which she has been running for over 7 years by volunteering most of her spare time. She has brought many smiles and hugs to children dealing with life-threatening illnesses. She and her volunteers, whom she call her "Angels," have delivered over 200 full- size teddy bears to children that needed a hug at Christmas time.The charity also builds playgrounds for the children in their very own backyard. Her mission in life is to create a world of giving and contributing to our community.
Michelle Da Costa
Michelle was introduced to OPACC when her youngest daughter of three girls, Samantha, was diagnosed with a rare germ cell tumor back in July 2014 at the mere age of 13 months old. Michelle became a full-time stay-at-home mom to continue to care for Samantha during her treatment, but also her two other daughters as well. After walking in the cancer shoes, and seeing just how much an entire family is affected by this disease, Michelle knew that being involved with childhood cancer is where she wanted to be.
Michelle joined OPACC in 2017 as one of their parent volunteers, lending her support to their in-hospital drop ins and participating in many of the wonderful events that OPACC holds for all its amazing families. Michelle continues to be highly involved in the cancer community and giving back. Her family is also an Ambassador family with the Hospital for Sick Kids and they work very closely with the Foundation to lend their time and support to advocate for children and especially children/parents affected by cancer.
Today, Michelle and her husband feel absolutely blessed to have all three of their girls happy and healthy! Samantha is now 4 and continues to be monitored closely by her fantastic Sick Kids team and remains “cancer free” for almost 3 years now.
Michelle plans to continue her involvement with OPACC and childhood cancer as an OPACC Parent Liaison and as a parent voice for all families within the childhood cancer community.
Karen is a married mother of two wonderful children. Prior to staying at home to raise her children, Karen worked as a Clinical Social Worker in the United States and Canada. She brings a wealth of experience in working with children and families in both mental health and hospital settings. Karen was first introduced to OPACC in 2014 after her son was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Leukemia. During the in-patient phase of treatment, Karen met with the OPACC Parent Liaison and attended some weekly drop-in sessions for support and to learn about available resources. Although Karen and her husband have a vast network of support through family and friends, Karen notes that the support provided by OPACC and by another mother affected by Childhood Cancer was by far the most compelling. Karen’s son is now three years post-treatment and is a thriving twelve year-old “tween.” Karen has recently joined OPACC as a Parent Liaison. She feels extremely fortunate to be able to draw on her training and personal experiences to help other parents and caregivers navigate the challenges of diagnosis and treatment.
Zeshan brings a wealth of knowledge within the areas of strategy, compliance and risk management. With post graduate degrees in Accounting and Business, Zeshan brings experience in both the corporate and entrepreneurial space, specifically within the Financial Services, Healthcare and Not-For-Profit sectors. He is passionate about helping others and is motivated to accelerate OPACC’s vision and mandate.
Aarthi Vig has dedicated her career to providing services in the not-for-profit sector and is very excited to be working with OPACC. With over fifteen years of experience in the field, she has managed, developed and implemented projects that have supported the delivery of learning opportunities and have helped build capacity for marginalized groups and other constituents across the province of Ontario. She believes strongly in the OPACC mandate and is eager to contribute her skills to further support the parents and families of the OPACC community.
I'm a mother of two hilarious children I refer to as my monkeys. It's the most devastating moment to be told your child has been diagnosed with a life threatening disease. Our child was diagnosed with high risk ALL and we didn't know what to expect. As we trudged along through this journey we learned so much - the fact that no treatment protocol is exactly the same, that the effects of drugs on tiny little bodies was so intense and the emotions of everyone involved could be any anywhere on any given day or week - and that it can take a toll at some point during or after treatment.
Being a grass roots organisation whose mandate is to simply support families throughout their childhood cancer journey in the form of resources, meals or conversation is humbling. Families supported by families who have all been affecting by similar experiences is comforting. I simply wish to pay it forward in the hopes of helping make the burden a little bit lighter one family at a time and to begin a support group in the Peel region.
Dr. Nicholas Blanchette
Dr. Anne Klassen
I am the mother of 3 amazing young men aged 19, 23, and 25. When Conor (the middle one) was 6 years old we shockingly found out he had a football-sized tumor in one of his kidneys (it’s called a Wilm’s tumor). That started our journey into the world of childhood cancer. All this took place in Vancouver, where he was successfully (and lovingly) treated at BC Children’s Hospital. He survived and is now in healthcare working as an RN on an acute medicine ward (though I have this feeling that one day he will end up in pediatric oncology). I work as a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster University. My area of research focuses on measuring outcomes that matter to patients. My wonderful husband is a professor of English literature at St Jerome’s University in Waterloo. In Vancouver we were founding members of the childhood cancer parent organization. I look forward to helping to advance OPACC’s good work in the province of Ontario.
I am a Registered Nurse with extensive experience in hospital, community and regulatory healthcare systems. I have two boys and can only imagine the stress families go through when their child is diagnosed with cancer. I hope that my skills and knowledge will assist the excellent work of OPACC. I am excited to be a part of this organization that is committed in helping families navigate childhood cancer.