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Growing Through Life’s Challenges

  December 5, 2023

If there’s one word that best fits Anita Wilson, it’s growth.

She does have a green thumb, having taken an interest in horticulture and pursuing it as a career choice. She’d worked in the areas of events and sponsorships for several years, before deciding she wanted to explore a different path.

“I would organize trade shows and work on sponsorship packages,” Anita says, “and then, COVID hit.”

A career change

Anita WilsonWith travel all but at a standstill and trade shows on hold, Anita, who was born in Fredericton, N.B. but has long called Ottawa, Ont., home, moved into consulting work.

“I qualified for the Second Career program at Algonquin College, so I was able to go back to school,” Anita says.

She enrolled in the Horticultural Industries program, learning about landscape design, nursery production and management, and sustainable urban agriculture, among other topics.

Anita blended her event and horticulture experience for a while, lending her talents to wedding planning and menu preparation. Eventually, she settled into a full-time role as a Membership and Communications Specialist with the Canadian Business Aviation Association.

A health crisis

One week into her new job, Anita was prepping for her weekend and about to head to her friend’s cottage when she had a sudden seizure.

She was rushed to the hospital and brought in for an MRI, which showed two tumours in her left frontal lobe.

Looking back, Anita finds it hard to pinpoint any one sign that something wasn’t right.

“I’d been feeling good,” Anita says. “I was going to the gym. I’d just played in a soccer tournament the weekend before my seizure and had five games back-to-back.”

She’d cut out alcohol and caffeine, as she’d been experiencing brain fog and wanted to see if it would make a difference. She’d also had headaches on occasion, as well as brief vertigo when she was playing sports or working outside in the heat.

“You just think, I need to get more sleep or stay hydrated,” she says. “You never think it’s going to be a brain tumour.”

Accepting a new reality

Anita WilsonWhile Anita awaited surgery, she insisted that she work from the hospital.

“When they detected the tumours, I was still kind of in denial,” she says. “I remember talking to a co-worker and she could hear the doctors being paged. She asked, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m just in the hospital. I won’t be able to work tomorrow though, because I’m having surgery.’”

Anita is quick to acknowledge her supportive co-workers and workplace, which expedited her access to benefits so she could receive the care she needed.

During her seven-hour surgery, Anita was kept awake.

“They removed the tumours, which at first, I was told were benign,” Anita says. “After the pathology report came back, it was detected that I had grade three oligodendroglioma.”

Anita’s medical team recommended an aggressive treatment, to which Anita was hesitant.

“I said, ‘Well, why would I do an aggressive treatment?’” she explains. “I was told it could be a matter of three years, without treatment, for my tumours to come back, or 15 to 20 years. So, I started radiation right away.”

After six weeks of radiation, Anita began chemotherapy. One year post surgery, she was on cycle five of six chemotherapy cycles when she was asked to stop treatment because her white blood cell count was low. A routine MRI detected abnormalities, which Anita’s doctors are monitoring.

“I’ve decided not to work while I’m going through treatment, just because it’s a little too hectic,” she says. “I get tired. Sometimes I get nausea and headaches. With work, there are deadlines and places to be, and I’m not there yet.”

Taking it slow

Anita WilsonShe’s been easing back into other activities and interests, like cooking and horticulture.

This past summer, Anita and a friend grew vegetables, herbs and edible flowers at a community garden.

“We had a great harvest,” she says.

While she hasn’t been able to play soccer yet, Anita has enjoyed hiking with her four-year-old Samoyed dog, Szimba.

Szimba has been her sidekick through it all, as Anita has had her since she was a four-week-old pup.

“At first I thought she was a boy, but then I found out she was a girl,” Anita says. “I kept the name. She walks like a lion, anyway.”

Spirituality has played a big part in Anita’s recovery as well.

“I practise Soka Gakkai Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism,” she says. “It’s given me a lot of strength, faith and hope to overcome my obstacles and be optimistic about the future.”

Her favourite quote comes from Daisaku Ikeda, Japanese Buddhist philosopher and president of the Soka Gakkai form of Buddhism that Anita follows.

“The resolve to accomplish your goal is what counts,” the quote reads. “If you earnestly put your mind to something, your brain, your body, your environment—everything—will start working towards achieving the end.”

Another quote that resonates with Anita comes from John 1:5.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

Looking to the future

Anita WilsonAnita applies her growth mindset in all areas of her life, looking towards what’s next.

“I just talked to a doctor who has signed the papers for me to get my licence back,” Anita says.

She’s looking forward to doing some local travelling, though she’s also set her sights on a few further locations.

“I’ve lived a very blessed life,” she says. “My mom’s from Kenya and my dad’s from Tanzania. I’ve visited different parts of Africa. I have family in Portugal, so I’m hoping to visit and establish some roots there. I’d love to do a road trip back to New Brunswick, where I’m from.”

Family is important to Anita. Despite her widespread lineage, her close family members really are close—less than 2 km away.

“Thankfully, during the times I wasn’t able to cook for myself, my mom would drop things off,” Anita says.

Anita’s family and friends came together through her struggles, not only to support her but to support the brain tumour community.

Giving back

Anita WilsonShe headed a team, Nutrivente, during this year’s Brain Tumour Walk, which raised nearly $5,550 through the family and friends who joined her.

Giving back has long been part of Anita’s life, as she’s spent years contributing to Variety, the Children’s Charity of Ontario.

“It’s funny sometimes, the way things come full circle,” says Anita. “I’ve been able to help out, on one hand, and I’ve received help myself.”

Her first connections with Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada came before the walk, when she received the organization’s handbook.

“I didn’t even know what an MRI was,” she says, “and then I had to have all these tests done. So thankfully, that handbook helped me understand things very quickly. Then, there were support groups, which at first, I really needed just to get a grasp of what was going on. I’m just glad there are resources out there and that hopefully, I can help others in a similar situation.”

Putting health first

As for what’s next, Anita wants to continue focusing on her recovery and health.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research on superfoods and trying to come up with healthy cocktails,” she says. “With treatment, you can get dehydrated and may not always have an appetite, so you need something to replenish your body. I’ve been working with a chef to come up with some shots using older produce that would normally get thrown out, so who knows what will happen there.”

The process is called gleaning, Anita explains, and it’s a way to reduce food waste.

“That’s a huge problem that we have here in Canada, wasting food,” Anita says. “Gleaning takes produce that may not be good enough for the grocery store, but it’s good enough for other things.”

Spreading hope

Anita WilsonShe also wants to continue to give back and help others where she can.

“I want to be able to share my story,” she says.

“People can hopefully be inspired to know that as dark as it gets, there’s always light.”

Anita is grateful to be seeing the light in her own situation, after the trying times she’s experienced.

“Every day that I wake up, I’m just glad to have another day, another breath, another chance,” she says. “It’s like I’ve been given a new lease on life.”