Ep. 9: Helen's Fight Story - Learning from the Expert

After a short hiatus, the Fight Club is back and thrilled to welcome Helen Antoniades. Helen is a valued member of the childhood cancer community, serving as a Transitions Counsellor as part of the POGO School and Work Transitions Program.
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Before joining POGO, Helen worked as a frontline social worker for about 15 years in various healthcare settings. However, she eventually became tired and slightly burnt out. So, she took a break, starting her own business selling children's books. Despite loving this part of her life, she felt something was missing; social work was a core part of her identity.
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While looking for a new job, Helen stumbled upon a posting at POGO. She was not familiar with POGO but immediately fell in love with their work. She joined the team and has loved working amongst a group of incredible people, including an extraordinary network of childhood cancer survivors and brain tumour survivors.
Specifically, Helen works as the Transitions Counsellor for the Toronto region as part of POGO's School and Work Transitions Program. The Transitions Program provides free, one-on-one professional counselling services that assist childhood cancer and brain tumour survivors aged 16 years and older achieve their educational and career goals.
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Commonly, Helen works with high school survivors to figure out their next steps as they transition into young adults. Whether this is an apprenticeship, a gap year, or pursuing post-secondary education, Helen and her team are there to help these survivors navigate the process from start to finish. Sometimes, this involves things like resumé building and interview preparation; other times, it involves seeking out volunteer, employment and educational opportunities.
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One of the most significant parts of Helen's job is helping to secure accommodations for students embarking on post-secondary education. Many people do not know that for some childhood cancer survivors, the life-saving treatment they receive can actually affect their brain and how they learn.
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For example, some survivors may struggle to multitask due to the effects of their treatment on their cognitive abilities. So, while listening to a lecture at university or college, they may struggle to take notes simultaneously. At this point, Helen would help these students work to set up a solution, like receiving the notes in advance or securing a scribe that can take notes for them. This is just one example of the many accommodations needed by survivors.
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Additionally, after surviving cancer, many survivors feel a sense of pressure to be a "shining star." The Transitions team works to help survivors navigate these feelings, reminding them that while they did go through an extraordinary experience, they are still ordinary people who need to figure out for themselves what their goals and dreams are and how they would like to achieve these.
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Many survivors and their families want to leave this traumatic experience in the past. People tend not to think that childhood cancer can be a lifelong illness. Even though a survivor may no longer have cancer, there can be many enduring effects - physically, emotionally and psychologically.
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Obviously, for Helen witnessing her clients achieve their goals is rewarding. But, what she finds the most rewarding is her ability to make her clients feel understood, sometimes in a way they never have before. Often, she reminds her clients not to compare themselves to other people their age. Instead, they are unique with entirely different life experiences. Surprisingly, many people have never heard this before. They have never been permitted to find their path and create their journey. Helen helps them do this.
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Ultimately, this is just a tiny glimpse into Helen and the extraordinary work she does. To learn more, please check out the entire episode.
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Sign up for POGO Transitions newsletter here. The newsletter is published twice a year and offers the latest information about services for childhood cancer and brain tumour survivors; general event listings; and articles about education, work and survivorship.
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