Opening doors for women in a world of ‘subtle’ sexism

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Saint John lawyer Nathalie Godbout was pregnant with her eldest child, now 10, when she was the incoming chairwoman of the Saint John Board of Trade — the third woman to hold the post in an organization that turns 150 this year.

I can remember back then, the most popular question was ‘How are you going to do this?’” says Godbout who, at the time, was also a new partner with Lawson Creamer.

How does anybody do it? There are two parents in our household, not just one,” says Godbout, who recently opened her own boutique firm with colleague Cathy Fawcett in a stunning historic building on Hazen Street that pre-dates the Great Fire of 1877.

They’re looking at you with some curiosity, but also with this profound concern — as if what you’re about to do is impossible.

Godbout, now 47, not only “did it” with her first baby -= going back to work three weeks after she was born — but again three years later with her second child, nursing each for a full year while managing her busy practice, and while her husband, Jim Lawlor, cared for their daughters. Her career has flourished as she built a reputation as a discreet and capable malpractice defence lawyer. She received the prestigious Queen’s Counsel, or Q.C. designation and a YMCA Women of Distinction Award last year.

And, on May 12, she is set to receive the Muriel Corkery-Ryan Q.C. Award, which recognizes an exceptional person who has taken risks, fostered change and ultimately opened doors for female lawyers. The award, presented by the Canadian Bar Association’s New Brunswick branch, will be presented at a conference on embracing change and overcoming obstacles at the Hilton Hotel.

For Godbout, the path has not always been smooth, and while she says she has it easier than female lawyers did 50 years ago, she has experienced a subtle form of sexism faced by many professional women today.

For example, while meeting with colleagues, a bid to attract new clients may be met with skepticism by her peers, while the man sitting next to her would get full support for another pitch.

It’s subtle. You can’t put your finger on it,” she says, seated at a long table in what feels more like a dining room than a law office. “They don’t say it. It’s resistance, it’s skepticism. It’s almost as if you’re being indulged when your track record and book of business would invite none of that.

Even as more female lawyers enter the profession, they are more likely to leave it within their first 10 years for many reasons, Godbout says.

To make your way, you have to be exceptional. It has to be harder for them to do without you, than without you.

For women — and not only lawyers — who choose to have children, it may be more difficult to get a job, keep your job, or it’s seen as a burden on an employer, she says.

It’s born of a time that we are not supposed to be living in anymore,” Godbout says. “Those old norms still exist, whether or not people want to admit it — I’m convinced of it — so I think sometimes the only way to change it is to reinvent it.

That’s what led in part to the birth of her firm, which opened its doors last December. It’s a place where lawyers and staff find a balance that results in what they say is great client service and a lifestyle that meets their needs as professionals as well as their families at home.

After years of mentoring and meeting with young female lawyers — often in places well “off the grid” — where Godbout would offer her advice, she now aims to model how a modern practice led by two women in the Maritimes can look and feel.

Cathy and I will tell you some of the best law briefs we’ve written, we started after 9 p.m.,” she says. “As lawyers, you’re just as productive if not more so than any of our peers. The work was getting done and didn’t have to be done in a traditional way. That fluidity and flexibility is a huge piece of what we do here.

And the “proof is in the pudding,” Godbout says. A comparison of hours and productivity against other firms demonstrates they are measuring up “in spades.

This new generation of lawyers is looking for that flexibility, trust and accountability.

Godbout, the third of four children growing up in Grand Falls, remembers being the kid who was sent in to negotiate a deal with the adults, what she now practises as “interest-based negotiations.

loved it – I thrived in that environment,” says Godbout, who moved as a teen with her family to Saint John, and attended St. Thomas University for an arts degree before pursuing law at the University of New Brunswick. “Everybody would be happy with the final decision, whatever it was. That’s always been my personality.

Godbout articled at Stewart McKelvey in Saint John before joining Gilbert McGloan Gillis for 12 years, six of those as partner. When she “parachuted” into Lawson Creamer as a partner, she was six months pregnant, she says. The team was “tremendously supportive” over her decade at the firm.

The move to open Godbout Fawcett was the dream she never knew she had, she says, resulting in a design that “feels better” than a traditional law firm.

Along with her advocacy for female lawyers, Godbout has also become a voice for those facing domestic violence after overhearing abuse in a hotel and writing a poignant editorial in the Telegraph-Journal last year. The story, addressed to the “Woman in Room 805,” went viral, leading to a flood of messages from women who have reached out to her to say, after reading her piece, they had the courage to get out. To this day, she is still haunted by what she heard and hopes the woman in the room is OK.

An entire demographic now knows there is someone who can hear them on the other side of the door, and doesn’t know what to do, and is profoundly worried about them – I think a lot of them have felt for a very long time that nobody cared,” she says.

That seems to be the mantle I’m wearing now because so many of these individuals are saying to me: ‘You saved my life. I got out.’ It allowed them to see there are people to help if they committed to leaving. I’m very grateful.

As appeared in the Telegraph-Journal May 12, 2017.

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100 Women Who Care started with two

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Kelly Patterson and Debbie Rathwell started the Saint John chapter of 100 Women Who Care. Photo by April Cunningham

They met through figure skating and both parted ways in their teens when their families moved to different parts of Canada, but Debbie Rathwell and Kelly Patterson would cross paths again.

It wasn’t until years later, when they had both returned to Greater Saint John, built their respective careers and were looking for something more.

Rathwell, who runs her own corporate event planning business, Red, was at a tourism conference in Fredericton in 2013 when, at the tail end of a presentation about LinkedIn, a Halifax businesswoman dropped an idea that got Rathwell’s adrenaline rushing.

“She had just started the first chapter of 100 Women Who Care in Halifax, which was the first chapter in Atlantic Canada,” says Rathwell in an interview alongside Patterson in Java Moose in Rothesay.

“She started telling this story. To me it was captivating and it went straight to my heart and to my all my senses that said, ‘This is the most sensible, efficient way to give back.’ And it just resonated with me. I thought, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to take this back to my community.”

On the drive back to Saint John, Rathwell knew she wanted to set up Saint John’s own chapter of 100 Women Who Care — an organization that collects donations of $100 from each member for a selected charity four times a year — but she didn’t want to do it alone. That’s when she thought of Patterson.

The women had always been friends but their lives had “taken different turns,” Rathwell says, and she knew it was time to reconnect and do something big.

“I always admired Kelly and she always was a great mentor, so I reached out to her,” she says.  “The rest is history. Kelly said yes and off we went.”

Now the Saint John chapter of 100 Women Who Care is approaching its fourth anniversary, having raised more than $388,000 over 16 meetings. There are nearly 240 members and “nobody shirks their responsibility.”

That means showing up with a chequebook at the Hatheway Pavilion at Lily Lake on a quarterly basis, ready and willing to give.

Each member, who is expected to contribute for at least one year, nominates a charity and each meeting, three charities are randomly selected to present. After the charity gives a five-minute talk “from the heart” without the use of audio/visual aids, members vote on their non-profit group of choice. The charity with the most votes receives all of the donations — allowing members to make one big, meaningful contribution.

Leading up to its first meeting in 2013, the group had 50 registrations within the first 48 hours, and 120 people showed up to the inaugural gathering.

“It was just magic,” Rathwell says. “The fire had been lit under all these women in Greater Saint John.”

At the last meeting in February, officials with the cash-strapped Cherry Brook Zoo took home a giant cheque for $21,500. Other previous recipients include the Sophia Recovery Centre, Sistema NB Saint John Centre, Outflow Ministries’ Men’s Shelter and The ONE Change Inc.

“Often, when you give, you send your money somewhere but you don’t know 100 per cent where it goes,” Rathwell says.

“With 100 Women Who Care, you’re part of the entire process: listening to the story or pitch, voting and writing the cheque. Everyone in that audience was part of that. So you feel really connected to the donation and the whole cause.”

It’s also relatively effortless, she adds. The meetings are usually less than an hour, and unlike many fundraisers, there are not tickets to sell or silent auction items to collect.

At the next meeting in June, zoo officials will be expected to report back on how the donation has made a difference, which “completes the circle,” Patterson adds. All money raised is expected to stay local.

“Sometimes when you make a small donation to a charity, it can feel like a drop in the bucket,” she says. “These groups literally walk out with a fist full of cheques — it’s the coolest thing to see. It’s enough money to get a project off the ground and you can do something right out of the gate, rather than having to wait for it to trickle in $50 at a time.”

The immediate impact of the donation works for donors as well, and while some members drop off over time, there isn’t a meeting without new recruits.

“All you need to do is read the news to see how much need there is,” Patterson says. “Saint John is going through a really rough patch.” The stories can pull on the heartstrings, but it may not always be obvious how to give, and busy people may not always get around to it. For those who are able to commit to the $100 donation, four times a year, 100 Women Who Care just makes sense.

As the organization has developed over the years, Patterson and Rathwell have been able to lend their support to other groups in the Maritimes trying to get off the ground, including 100 Men Who Care Saint John, which is no longer in operation.

“At its root, we’re both in sales,” says Patterson, who is a stock broker and partner with Buckley Patterson Shaw Securities. Dealing with the public and not being afraid to ask for help is probably key to the group’s success and relative longevity, she says.

“We’re also genuinely caring and respecting people,” says Rathwell, “whether it’s in the business world or in our personal world. Kelly and I both have a high respect and regard for other people — men or women — and we care.”

And it’s contagious. When the Pavilion at Lily Lake, a non-profit, notified the group they would have to increase the cost of the rental space, Patterson and Rathwell put the issue to the membership. They asked if the cost should come out of the recipient donations or whether extra donations should be collected each meeting.

Instead, so many individuals and businesses stepped up to pay the entire cost of each meeting room rental, they had to put all the names in a hat.

“The next several years are covered,” Patterson says with a smile.

“So many people are proud to say they’re apart of this,” Rathwell says. “From the beginning, we hit the ground running — and we’re not stopping anytime soon.”

As appeared in the Telegraph-Journal March 27, 2017.

Self-made entrepreneur bringing vibrancy to uptown

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Keith Brideau, founder of Historica Developments, expects his company to grow “exponentially.” Photo by April Cunningham

As appeared in the Telegraph-Journal, March 6, 2017

Life wasn’t always easy growing up in Saint John’s north end, but for uptown property developer Keith Brideau, it was where he honed a competitive spirit and the drive to succeed.

I always felt like I could do better if I worked harder,” he says in his bustling Princess Street office, pausing to sign a cheque and direct a worker to the renovated Bustin’s apartments where new tenants are moving in. “I just didn’t want to be an average person.

Brideau’s father, who was in construction and his mother, a former Crosby’s molasses factory worker, always did their best to provide for their children – once selling the family car to buy Christmas presents. It was that sacrifice and generosity that made him feel “obligated” to do well.

That drive started from a young age, says Brideau, 36, who co-founded Historica Developments with a silent investor from Alberta almost 10 years ago, a company that has grown “exponentially” in recent years, helping to reshape the city’s uptown core.

Growing up on the Boulevard and later the old north end, Brideau played sports, including baseball, karate, badminton, and spent a lot of time in community centres.”

My parents were really good at keeping me off the streets.

Brideau soon realized he had the same desire to keep up with kids in the classroom and he started to excel academically, named student of the year in Grade 6.

I always paid attention to people who did well,” he says, although he often had to look beyond his immediate family for mentors. While his family worked hard and had “street smarts,” neither one of his parents finished high school.

The first family member on either side of his family to attend university, Brideau attended the University of New Brunswick, graduating with an electrical engineering degree as well as a technology, management and entrepreneurship diploma in 2003. He was soon hired by Deloitte in risk management and information technology consulting – a role that would allow him to travel across Atlantic Canada.

Meanwhile, Brideau knew he didn’t want to pay someone else’s mortgage, so he made his first leap into real estate. He and his former girlfriend bought a run-down townhouse on Highmeadow Drive for $54,000. They put a few thousand dollars into the property and flipped it for a $10,000 profit.

I enjoyed the process of taking an old townhouse that needed some work, and investing some money, some sweat equity, and turning it around and making it into a place you could feel proud of,” he says. “It got me hooked on real estate.

All while still working and travelling for Deloitte, Brideau immersed himself in the world of real estate, learning about inspections, markets and construction. He also learned to leverage the bank’s money to make a bigger profit. From the Highmeadow Drive house, Brideau next bought a duplex, followed by a three-unit and a six-unit complex with friends. His hunger for development continued.

At one point, Deloitte assigned Brideau to work for a bank in Toronto. He was set up to live in a downtown condominium, complete with a rooftop patio with a view of the CN Tower.

Guys with TV shows and CEOs of big companies who would pull up to the front door in Ferraris, then there’s me from Saint John’s north end,” he says.

What I realized is there was an amazing quality of life we just didn’t have in New Brunswick – I had never seen anything like it.

Brideau knew Saint John was poised for growth, and that there was potential to build a more high-end urban lifestyle. But with limited financial resources, he wasn’t sure how he could tackle it on his own.

One day, Brideau met a man in his Toronto condo’s rooftop hot tub. They struck up a conversation about their backgrounds, and the man said he helped build sports complexes and arenas. Brideau was in awe, and asked him how.

I partnered with people who had more money than I did,” said the man, who turned out to be Gary Green, a former Washington Capitals coach. For Brideau, it was like a light bulb went off.

It wasn’t long before he left the job at Deloitte in 2007 to start his own venture with his brother and a friend.

That first attempt, Home Improvers, did renovations, garages, windows and siding. It also flipped one house with limited success, he says.

You don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into from a business perspective until you jump in the deep end – sink or swim,” Brideau says.

At that time, he started looking for investors to grow bigger. While Brideau had always looked to Kijiji and other for-sale-by-owner sites for the best real estate deals, he started thinking it would also be his key to finding a potential investor.

He got his girlfriend to help him post an ad across the country: “Attention major investors: I’m going to tell you now what you wish you would have heard five years from now had I not told you today.” He laid out the city’s potential for major growth with an energy boom on the horizon, and his own experience in flipping properties.

Brideau’s phone started ringing almost immediately.

I had so many people calling me I had to keep a spreadsheet of all the conversations,” he says.

One woman in particular from Alberta had done her homework. She asked for references and a couple weeks later, came with her husband for a tour of Saint John. Brideau convinced them to invest.

We became business partners and set up a model where they would invest a bunch of money and I would earn my ownership,” he says. Historica Development was born.

They started with 55 Canterbury St., the old Aberdeen Hotel, merging hotel rooms to create 15 apartments, with lower level offices and restaurants. From there, they moved to a number of other heritage buildings in the uptown area.

For the former Bustin’s furniture building that spans from Germain to Canterbury along Grannan Lane, they brought on more investors, including partners from Saint John and Alberta. The building is now home to restaurants, a comedy club, a gallery and a pub with new apartments on the upper floors.

We’re growing the business now exponentially and in order to grow at that point, you need to bring on more partners.

The company is about to complete the Bustin’s portfolio in the next month or two, then plans to close on more properties. Brideau’s goal is to do three times as much work in the next 10 years as he has completed over the past decade, and he hasn’t ruled out moving beyond Saint John.

He says the uptown investments “make sense” for the Historica partners because they represent low-risk potential. The real estate is cheap, Brideau does the bulk of the work in an environment he understands, and they end up with assets that pay for themselves. Saint John doesn’t have the peaks and valleys of other cities, and the difficulties with renovated historic buildings tend to keep the competition away.

It takes someone like me who has the experience from the ground up to be able to turn these buildings around and bring them to life,” says Brideau, who works alongside his wife Margot Brideau. They have two daughters.

It also takes mental strength, he says, adding some projects feel like a “nightmare” in the thick of it.

But you know what they say, if you’re going to go through hell, you’ve got to keep going. I keep a thick skin because the problems turning these old buildings around and having them meet today’s code – all that difficulty creates opportunity.

© April Cunningham

Is Saint John ready to feel the burn?

3rd Degree Training set to open on Manawagonish Road Feb. 27

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Kevin McEachern is opening 3rd Degree Training, a body-weight boot camp fitness facility, in Saint John on Feb. 27. Submitted photo.

Kevin McEachern wasn’t entirely shocked when he got downsized from his business development job in the vacation industry. The timeshare exchange business wasn’t on an upswing, he says, and he knew it likely wasn’t a career that would take him to retirement.

Over his 10 years of meeting with clients — many of whom owned small businesses — he came to respect and admire their work.

“I was always the corporate guy on the other end of the desk trying to sell them a product,” says McEachern, 37, who is opening 3rd Degree Training in Saint John later this month.

As much as he thought about going into business on his own, the stats were a little daunting. According to Industry Canada, only half of small businesses last five years.

Nearly 80 per cent of franchises, on the other hand, continue to operate five years after opening their doors, he says, because businesses models and processes are already established and proven to work.

So when McEachern, of Quispamsis, lost his job and started considering his options, the idea of starting fresh and opening a franchise held real appeal.

“I became intrigued and thought it was the way to go,” he says.

McEachern has always had an interest in healthy living and took up running a few years ago, running his first marathon in 2015 and several Spartan obstacle course races in 2016. When he started looking through franchise opportunities, he soon stumbled across a PEI-based fitness franchise, 3rd Degree Training and Actual Nutrition. The required upfront investment was affordable, he says, and the idea of opening up a business he truly cared about was exciting.

“When you get moved out of a position not by your own choice – you realize you have an opportunity to make a decision,” he says. “I could get a regular old 9-to-5 day job and work for someone else, or I could have the opportunity to give something back to the community.”

McEachern knows the power of exercise and its ability to help one overcome life’s challenges first hand.

After separating from his wife a couple of years ago, instead of sinking into a depression, McEachern immersed himself in the world of fitness, nutrition and running.

“It became a way of stress management, and I realized it was very empowering for me,” he says. “Every time I went for a run or went to the gym, I felt like I was thinking more clearly.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could take that passion for exercise and healthy eating and turn that into a career to help others?’”

Now McEachern is turning that dream into a reality.

The Saint John location of 3rd Degree Training opens at 1490 Manawagonish Rd. on Feb. 27. Registration is Feb. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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The gym runs eight-week boot camps including unlimited classes and nutrition advice. Clients can also take advantage of before-and-after photos and measurements so they can track their progress.

Workouts completely consist of body weight movements — such as squats, burpees and planks — in a group atmosphere full of encouragement and motivation.

“Running is the backbone of my passion for fitness,” says McEachern, who is now a trained fitness instructor. “At the same time, I understand it’s not for everyone. At 3rd degree, you can still get that runner’s high. About 15 to 20 minutes into the workout, you feel like you’re elevating, and you get your body to a point you didn’t know was possible thanks to the group environment, the pumping music and the serotonin flowing through your body.”

Anyone who signs up for an eight-week boot camp also benefits from Actual Nutrition, which subscribes to a whole foods-based approach to eating. It’s about nutrient density and no gimmicks, McEachern says.

“It’s not points-based, it’s not calorie-counting, it’s not about making people feel guilty,” he says. “It’s getting back to basics.”

McEachern says the goal will be to help members stay accountable to healthy eating.

The Saint John location — which boasts an expansive space equipped with showers and change rooms — will be the fifth in the Maritimes, joining Stratford, Montague, Summerside, Dartmouth and Moncton. 3rd Degree Training is only the second franchise to come out of PEI — the first being a popular ice cream chain.

McEachern says he not only believes in the business, but he has seen the difference the program has already made in people’s lives across the region.

“You can see crazy results even after one eight-week boot camp,” he says. The body weight movements are effective because they are all ways humans are meant to move — no heavy weights required.

“It’s a welcoming environment and it’s meant for people of all shapes and sizes. Every person walks out of there feeling like, ‘Holy, that was tough. But wow, am I ever proud of myself.’”

For more information, join the Facebook group for 3rd Degree Training – Saint John. Be sure to like and share the post for a chance to win a spot in the first 8-week bootcamp!

Ray Strowbridge: From wrestling ring to political arena

As appeared in the Telegraph-Journal on Jan. 23, 2017

The last time Ray Strowbridge saw his father, he was eight years old.

Growing up without a dad was “incredibly hard,” he says, as his mother, Margaret Haigh, struggled to make ends meet on Scott Avenue, one of the poorest streets in the Kennebecasis Valley.

But on that apartment-lined avenue crawling with children, Strowbridge, now 41, remembers then-Fairvale mayor Jigs Miller stopping by to talk to residents. His pockets were always filled with candy.

I was always fascinated by him, and politics,” says Strowbridge, who has been a Saint John city councillor for nearly five years. “People would flock to him.

Those early impressions continued to impact Strowbridge, who was born in Newfoundland, as he moved through elementary school. In Grade 6, his teacher orchestrated a mock election between three classes. They organized political parties and ran campaigns.

Strowbridge was elected president.

I dreamed of becoming a politician,” Strowbridge, who represents the east side’s Ward 4, says over a coffee at Tim Hortons on Loch Lomond Road. “I’ve always had a strong sense of community and where I belong.

As Strowbridge got older, his interests temporarily changed direction. Like many youth of his generation, he started to idolize the stars of the World Wrestling Federation, now known as the WWE. Posters of Hulk Hogan plastered his walls.

It was my religion growing up,” he says, adding he now connects his fondness for Hulk Hogan to the lack of a father figure in his life.

By the age of 16, Strowbridge made the “stupid” decision of dropping out of high school to pursue a wrestling career. He attended “wrestling school” in Moncton.

It wasn’t long before Strowbridge says he realized he wasn’t good, adding he returned to school and got his diploma a short time later.

I wouldn’t make it to Wrestlemania,” he says with a laugh. “It was a really big growing up moment.

Still, Strowbridge maintained his passion for wrestling, making appearances in Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling. He took on the persona of “Teddy Too Sweet Champagne,” a drag queen dressed in pink with a feather boa. The idea is to get a strong reaction from the crowd by getting fans to either love you or hate you, he says. Strowbridge was a “good guy.

It’s now been about 10 years since he has wrestled, though “they keep asking me to come back,” he says.

Strowbridge, who has been a paramedic for 20 years, says he has never taken any heat for his unique interest in wrestling.

Most people think it’s pretty cool,” he says, adding many locals who follow the wrestling scene remember his “Too Sweet” persona.

Fast forward to 2012, and Strowbridge threw his hat in the running for council after spending time on his now 11-year-old daughter Brooklyn’s Parent School Support Committee. The political fire in his belly never burned out, he says.

That first term on council under former mayor Mel Norton was an intense experience for the political rookie, as the politicians navigated one problem to the next – whether it was the desperate need for pension reform or securing funding for the city’s massive drinking water system overhaul.

So far, Strowbridge says this second term under Mayor Don Darling is rather quiet in comparison. It’s not as easy to point to big accomplishments in the first few months of this mandate, he adds.

The thing is, we don’t have any huge, crippling problems,” he says. “We’re like hungry soldiers looking for a fight, but there isn’t one. There are no big wins, because there are no big problems.

Strowbridge says there is a definite difference in the leadership styles of both Darling and Norton, but he doesn’t see that as a problem. Darling is not as “strict” in meetings as Norton was, for example. And Darling “doesn’t micro-manage.

With fewer problems to tackle, Strowbridge says he sometimes struggles with how to focus his energy. But he has found a happy medium in focusing on local neighbourhood needs.

He’s eager to see a splash pad built in the Forest Hills area, for example.

And he has just received word that the city will set aside $10,000 from its capital budget to build a dog park and shelter at the Little River Reservoir. These are the things he hears about when he goes door to door, he says.

They’re tangible – they matter.

A member of the city’s growth committee, Strowbridge says Saint John residents need to stop comparing themselves to the outlying communities.

We will always be more expensive because we’re bigger,” he says. It also doesn’t make sense to compare the city to Moncton, which is geographically smaller than Saint John.

Council recently voted to hold the tax rate, which hasn’t changed from $1.785 per $100 of assessed value for nine years. Strowbridge believes it doesn’t make sense to drop it by a cent for the sake of a few dollars in savings for each resident when the city’s revenues would drop by $673,000.

Why don’t you keep your $20 and pave roads, or improve a park. Taking $20 off my tax bill is an insult to me. Why not keep that money and invest in something that matters?

 

Mom ecstatic as boy gets gift of health – Telegraph-Journal

By April Cunningham

Zackary Shaw may not make it home for Christmas, but he’s already received the greatest gift.

After years of battling leukemia, including a second diagnosis last spring, the nine-year-old from Back Bay, near St. George, has just received news that an umbilical cord stem cell transplant was a success.

“My heart is exploding with so much happiness right now,” says his mother, Courtney Shaw, who remains with Zack at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, on Thursday. “It was the best feeling in the world to tell him he fought cancer for the second time. There are no words to describe what I’m feeling.”

Preliminary results from Zackary’s October stem cell transplant were a 100 per cent match, Shaw says, meaning his old cancer cells are gone and he is completely cancer-free.

The news could not have come at a better time for Zackary and his parents, who have spent months in Toronto after a series of intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments leading up to the transplant.

He was diagnosed with chemotherapy for the second time in May, just seven months after finishing treatments. This time, the cancer had spread through his blood, chromosome 21, brain and spinal fluid and his bone marrow.

But just as Zackary and his mother hoped he would be given the all-clear to return home to the Maritimes in time for Christmas, a series of infections led to his readmittance to hospital.

Shaw, who has been forced to keep her chin up, saying positive through the battery of tests, treatments and pain she has been forced to watch her son endure for the past four years, called it “just another bump in the road.”

What was once a Christmas wish to return home to St. George, west of Saint John, faded to a slim hope of even making it as far as Halifax, where Zackary would remain close to pediatric oncologists at the IWK and where they could reunite with his sisters, Jennika, 14, and Harley, 4, who remain in St. George.

“We aren’t sure when we’ll be home,” Courtney says. “But if we don’t make it, we will Skype the girls Christmas morning from here.”

The latest setback had wiped Zackary’s typical sweet, demure smile from his face — aside from the day he had the chance to meet a few members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his mother says. He was downtrodden, leaving his mother to make any attempt she could to bring a smile to his face, as they played “Russian roulette” with his fragile immune system.

This latest news was the lift he needed.

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Back in 2012, Zackary had been lethargic and ill for months, and while his doctors thought he had throat and ear infections, the antibiotics they prescribed weren’t doing a thing. They finally sent him for bloodwork.

“I got the phonecall at work,” Shaw says in an interview over Facebook video chat, Zackary snuggled next to her. She was just a few days into her new job as a Charlotte County physiotherapist when she received the news that her four-year-old son had leukemia. “I couldn’t even go home to pack my bags. They wanted him straight through to Saint John, and at 4 a.m. the following morning we went by ambulance to Halifax.”

It was scary, Courtney says, but she put her trust in doctors and the healthcare system.

“When you’re going through this, you don’t know what to expect,” she says. “It was all a foreign language to me.”

Little did she know she was entering a medical world she would become only too familiar with over the coming years, as they ferried Zackary back and forth between Saint John and Halifax for nearly four years.

He finished his final treatment on October 17, 2015.

Only a few months later, on May 30, the cancer was back.

It seemed to come out of nowhere, Courtney adds, since only six days prior, Zackary’s weekly test results were completely clean.

“Then he started having signs of weakness in his arms,” she says, adding it was a symptom of infection. “He couldn’t write, or pick up his chair at school to put it on his desk at the end of the day.”

Zackary was at his father’s house one day — his parents are separated — and he went to the Saint John Regional Hospital for bloodwork to see what was behind the weakness.

Once again, Courtney got the call at work. “He had relapsed. This time, it was a more intense diagnosis,” she says. “That’s why he needed the bone marrow transplant.”

Although Courtney and Zackary’s father, Jaret Wentworth, were told he would likely need the transplant, they were warned that even with 28 billion people on the registry, the chances of a match are rare.

One day before the St. George community organized a September bone marrow clinic — which attracted nearly 200 people willing to add their names to the registry — officials found two matches suitable for Zackary.

What ended up being the selected match came from the umbilical cord blood of a baby boy, which they hoped would make Zackary healthy again.

In a process that only took 25 minutes, the small bag of blood dripped through the lines in Zackary’s chest, leaving what Courtney describes as a strange yet pungent odour or cream corn in the hospital room for days after the transfusion, Courtney says. The smell leaked from her son’s pores.

******

Ask Zackary his age, and he jokes that he’s 100 years old.

What does he want for Christmas?

He shakes his head, looking down. “Nothing.”

The past few weeks have left a boy that his mother describes as “always playing, always on the move,” utterly depleted.

“He was very, very sick this time around,” she says of the second diagnosis. “He just didn’t have the energy to do anything.”

He lost his hair much faster, too.

The first time Zackary was diagnosed with leukemia, life because a series of predictable tests and treatments. But nothing has been predictable about these past few months, Courtney says.

“It’s been one disaster after another. Bad news upon bad news. So when we get good news, we’re like, ‘Finally.’”

As a mother, Courtney says the entire journey through cancer, the disease that can only be described by expletives, has been a lesson in patience.

“Doctors are slow,” Zackary chimes in. Courtney laughs.

“There’s never a true answer,” she says. “There’s always a possibility of something else happening. There’s always a waiting game. It’s one test to the next.”

Courtney has her down moments, for sure, but staying positive is so important, she says. In fact, it’s the only way to soldier on.

“No parent wants to see their child suffer,” she says, eyes welling up with tears. “It can get emotionally hard sometimes. But you just keep going. Life doesn’t stop.”

Into the Night 5K

Heading to the Into the Night 5K run on Friday, I was not feeling enthusiastic. It was more a case of doing the run because I had already forked over my registration fee.

I didn’t know anyone else doing the race, I was tired, it was Friday, blah, blah, blah. 

Into the Night kicks off Marathon by the Sea race weekend in Saint John. Since I’m not doing the half-marathon this year, I opted for the 5K night run.

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I arrived at the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal in Saint John early for the run I thought started at 9 p.m. I picked up my race kit and was pleased to see two glow sticks made of foam — light sabres, which I knew Silas would love.

I was, however, a little disappointed to find out the race wasn’t timed. I was kind of looking forward to pushing myself in the 5K, which is a relatively unfamiliar distance for me. But with fireworks, glow sticks and a light-hearted feel, I knew I would enjoy myself.

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Turns out the race didn’t start till 9:30 p.m., when it was completely dark. It meant a little more waiting around, but luckily the weather was perfectly comfortable and I did a little jogging to warm up a bit.

Approaching the starting line, we heard a few inspirational words from Terry Thorne, this year’s Marathon by the Sea race marshall. Thorne has run 12 marathons and was in the process of attempting to qualify for Boston when she had a brain aneurism in 2007. She now lives in a nursing home after going through years of recovery. “Never, ever give up,” she said, standing with the help of a walker.

Thorne then sounded the race horn, and with her words on my mind, we were off, carrying the light sabres and dashing into the night. I pressed ahead and fell into a rhythm, running by Market Square as revellers took a break from enjoying live music to cheer for the runners. Then it was on to Harbour Passage, where darkness cast over the course and the colourful glow of the light sticks bounced ahead. I continued to pass people, one by one, until one woman sailed by me. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to let her win.

I don’t know who she was, but I set my mind to staying with that woman, who set a challenging pace. I wasn’t comfortable, but I kept telling myself that 5K is not far at all. I kept on her tail for most of the race, but the final kilometre was a challenge and she got ahead.

I decided to hold back then dig deep for the final stretch, and it worked. I sailed by the final few metres… and was shocked to see the clock at 24:xx. I hadn’t been looking at my watch throughout the race, instead focused on running by feel. And it turned out to be a great strategy.

According to my Garmin, my time was 24:49 — more than a minute faster than my personal best of 26 minutes! However, I believe the course was short, as my watch said the run was only 4.9 km. Still, I totally smashed my PB, and I was over the moon! Not bad for a “fun run.”

I gladly accepted a chocolate milk, ate some orange slices from the well-stocked food tent and made my way home. As I pulled in my driveway, I heard the fireworks (and wondered why they wouldn’t have gone off near the start of the race, while runners could see them over the harbour).

The run turned out to be a great experience, sailing through the dark with a sea of fluorescent runners. It felt good to be out of the blazing sun and gave me hope that I have some speed left in this mother runner legs of mine.