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Heroes of Humanity: Vanessa Willow

April 17, 2020 Jessica Lagman

Vanessa Willow is a Registered Practical Nurse at Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital. She started on the Complex Continuing Care floor, then transited to a float nurse, and today she is working in the mental health department. She wanted to challenge herself, experience different positions, and learn more about various areas at the hospital. In December 2017, Vanessa was diagnosed with cancer, but through both her surgeries and radiation treatments, she continued to work.

“Sometimes you don’t realize the impact those around you have until something happens. All my colleagues came together to give me kind wishes and flowers during my recovery. I don’t have any immediate family living nearby, but they made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” says Vanessa.

After fighting through the lowest point of her life, Vanessa is now cancer-free. She describes how the support and care of her coworkers will help carry her through the rest of her days l. She also discovered her love for painting during recovery. She incorporates her Indigenous roots into her artwork. Being an Indigenous painter has become part of her identity. On her downtime, she continues to create beautiful pieces.

During COVID-19, although Vanessa is immunodeficient, she has still chosen to work. Her coworkers see her as an inspiration, and always tell her that if she can do it, so can they. Vanessa is a strong believer that positivity has a big ripple effect.

 “When I am home, I feel like I should be back at work. I feel so powerless over what is happening. I wanted to do something small because small gestures can still have a big impact. I can’t sew masks to save my life, but I can sew buttons onto headbands. Once I made a few and I shared them with my coworkers, I had the CNA ask me to send some to New York. Making these headbands is about trying to create something bigger than us; It’s about spreading hope and strengthening sisterhood.”

Vanessa speaks about how she always tried to be the nurse she wanted to see. She wanted to be a model of positivity, strength, and perseverance. Wearing the surgical masks all day long can strain the back of your ears, she created the headbands to relieve the tension. She hopes this little act of kindness helps promotes solidarity and helps her fellow healthcare workers during their long shifts.

“I know physical distancing is hard. I miss my kids and my granddaughter, but we are all in this together and must continue doing everything we can to fight COVID-19. What has been so hard for me right now is not being able to hug each other during this time. A time where everyone needs one! We need to remember that we need each other. We need to find new ways to spread positivity and kindness. Despite our all differences, we need to show each other compassion. This is a non-discriminatory virus; it does not care for age or gender or race. I hope from this crisis, we all learn something.”




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