About Our Honourary Chair
Anne Anderson (nee Wotowic): A life fully lived
There are people who go where life seems to lead them, and then there are people who take control and create the life they believe they should be living. Anne Anderson was of the latter group. If you were lucky enough to meet her, you knew Anne was a determined, resilient woman for whom Home Hospice Association’s raison d’etre was the driving force that gave her a sense of purpose when she was dying of brain cancer.
Born in 1963 in Chicopee, Massachusetts, Anne graduated from her university, Summa cum laude in Neurobiology. After graduating, she was elected into Sigma Xi which is a Scientific Research Honour Society of North America. This society elects to membership graduate students who have shown noteworthy achievement as original investigators in Science and is bestowed on individuals by their peers.
Working at a bank through her university years, Anne met Larry Anderson who became her husband and with whom she had three children: Melanie, Kyle, and Anneliese. Due to her husband’s job transfers, the family moved to Georgia before landing in Toronto in 1996 where they have remained since. In 2001, the couple separated. After her husband passed away in 2007, Anne, who had been a stay-at-home wife and mother, was left to raise her three children, entirely dependent on her own income.
FROM STAY-AT-HOME MOM TO ACHIEVING FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE
It wasn’t easy to get back into the working world. Despite the odds, at age 38, Anne became an account representative, running events like the Toronto National Women’s Show which was launched in 2002 and is still going strong. That she helped break new ground isn’t surprising to those who knew her. Her daughter, Melanie, remembers that her mother, while always very busy, also took great care of her three children. Anne was a person of many passions. She loved to cook, and her perogies were very well known in family and friendship circles as the “hit” of any gatherings. She was a huge Science Fiction fan, a devoted “Trekkie”, and passionate about reading. A championship tennis player, she continued her physical fitness throughout her life through walking and hiking trails.
THE DIAGNOSIS AND HER ROLE HELPING OTHERS
When Anne was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 2005, she not only underwent the treatment to help her live, but she continued to go to work to support her three children. She also persisted in her volunteer work at Aurora Pantry, helping to feed the less fortunate. Melanie remembers going to the Pantry with her mother, when she was young. “It was important to her to help people. And she always instilled in us, myself and my brother and sister, that you stick with your commitments.” Melanie goes on to explain, “And she really taught us that you stick with your first commitment. If something else comes along, you don’t back down on what you said you would do first.” It was around 2006 that Anne left the Catholic Church and became a member of a non-denominational congregation, Rock and River Church, continuing her spiritual devotion and very close relationship with her God. She was cancer-free.
CANCER RETURNS AND ANNE’S ZEALOUSNESS IS RENEWED
Then, in 2012, Anne was diagnosed with pneumonia and experienced this for six months. One day, when she had coughed so hard that she broke a rib, her doctors discovered that they had misdiagnosed her. Breast cancer had not only returned, but had metastasized to her lungs and spine. She underwent chemotherapy again and it cleared her lungs but then the cancer metastasized to her ovaries and brain.
So at this point, most people would have been exhausted by what Melanie describes as, “so many lows and mountains throughout (her mother’s) life and never really getting a break.” But not Anne. It was around this time that Anne, after meeting a volunteer with Home Hospice Association at an event, decided to contact Tracey Robertson, co-founder of HHA. They met over spring rolls, and Anne not only shared her cancer situation with Tracey, but also decided that she needed to get on board with HHA and do what she could to bring awareness to the huge gaps in hospice care.
RADIATION, SHOPPING, AND CERTIFICATION
The first project Anne helped with was an HHA “Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula” training weekend. While undergoing cancer treatment, she went from grocery store to grocery store until she had enough donated gift cards to pay for the food for the event. Tracey recalls that, “Right after she had radiation treatment at Sunnybrook, she came straight to the grocery store to help me buy food for that weekend!” Then, Anne stayed the whole weekend to audit the training program, not only to help the facilitators refine their minute-by-minute agenda, but to put her work forward towards her Project Manager Professional Certification (PMP). Yes, she was working on achieving this on top of everything else that was going on in her life.
Bringing awareness to the problems with hospice care became a priority for Anne so she decided to set up meetings with politicians. If sharing the fact that she was dying helped Anne get in to meet politicians, all the better. Anne met with the director of the Palliative Care File for the Ontario Government at the time, intent on bringing to light the need for improved hospice care. Anne was determined that the facts would speak for themselves and that HHA’s solution would be welcomed by anyone looking to make improvements to healthcare in Ontario. To say that Anne was deflated after this meeting is an understatement. She was caught off-guard by the politics. She was dying and that was unfortunate, she was told. But hospice care? Not a priority.
Anne had an annual tradition with her sister who lived in the States, to go on a wine tour in Niagara. But during their 2017 wine tour, there was also a meeting taking place over drinks in Toronto, among passionate HHA people. Most of us would feel that we had to choose one or the other. “But not Anne,” Tracey explains with admiration in her voice, “She hopped on a GO Train, we picked her up, we had drinks and talked and then we drove her to the GO station so she could get back to her sister and continue their wine tour.” This memory comes with laughter as Tracey also recalls how much fun they had that night.
Anne’s sense of humour was another one of her dominant traits. An example Tracey shares is Anne’s belief that in her mind, it made perfect sense for the LCBO and Tilly Hats to sponsor HHA. After all, cancer patients need hats, thanks to chemotherapy and many people who are dying have a particular appreciation for alcohol. The relationships would be mutually beneficial!
Also in 2017, Anne, Tracey, and others, were planning the first annual Moonlit Memory Walk. Anne had been reaching out to businesses to donate, enlisting people to walk, and searching out food donations. The venue, Toronto Humber Yacht Club, was graciously donated. Other than that, the responses to the Walk weren’t quite what the team had hoped for. Tracey was ready to throw in the towel; put the event off for a year until more could be done to build it up. But Anne would have none of that. “No,” she insisted, “we go on and hold this Walk, no matter what.”
The First Annual Moonlit Memory Walk took place under the October full moon, just as planned. Anne, weakened by cancer and treatment, managed to get to the venue, if only for a little while, to the amazement of all who knew her and her situation. And so, she saw it happen. She saw the people gathered to honour those for whom they were walking. She saw the lanterns, labeled with the names of those people. She knew that funds had been raised to help bring hospice care to people wherever they call, ‘home’. And Anne knew that she had been part of something that would and has continued to grow. We know that she was an important part of the reason it ever got off the ground.
We remembered Anne at the 2018 Moonlit Memory Walk, not as a member of the organizing committee, but as part of our In Memoriam because on October 21, three days before the Second Annual Moonlit Memory Walk, Anne lost her incredibly hard-fought battle with cancer. We received the blessing of her children to name Anne “Honourary Chair” of the Moonlit Memory Walk, beginning that year.
But we can take this even further. We can honour Anne through our own determination to help improve the state of home hospice care in our communities. When doors close and emails go unanswered, we have to keep knocking and emailing anyway. When people don’t want to hear the facts that support the importance of funding home hospice care, we have to keep telling them anyway. And, although we are volunteers, we have to remember to keep our commitments. That’s the example Anne gave us and that is her Home Hospice Association legacy.
Thank you so much to Melanie Anderson for agreeing to be interviewed and for sharing memories, thoughts, and emotions about her incredible mother. And to Kyle and Anneliese, thank you for supporting this article and for clarifying details.