As written for Kitchener Today

After almost suffering the loss of his foot, and being told he’d likely never walk properly again, Paul Jankura is embarking on the ride of his life. Departing August 31, he plans to cycle from Kitchener to Newfoundland in just 12 days.

Jankura is riding to raise funds for his friend, and self-described brother, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) around the same time as his accident.

“On August 6th, 2017, I was involved in a workplace accident that temporarily severed my foot and left me fighting to keep my leg,” he recalls. It was during this time that his friend, diagnosed with MS at 27, began to experience worsening symptoms.

“I want to use what I have learned through my challenges to lift my brother up during his.”

According to the MS Society of Canada, Canadians have the highest rate of MS diagnoses in the world. While it is most often diagnosed in young adults, aged 20 to 49, younger children and older adults are also diagnosed with the disease.

Every day three Canadians are diagnosed with MS, an unpredictable illness that affects vision, balance, memory, and mobility.

Jankura says he was lucky, “if my blood vessels had not remained intact, the trauma surgeons might not have been able to reattach everything.” He says his journey began after waking up from surgery and realizing his foot was still attached. “I looked to someone like Josh, who couldn’t just do physio and cure his condition – yet remained positive, looking toward the future. This encouraged me to stay positive and focus on rehabilitation.”

His rehabilitation would take 16-months.

As he grew stronger, with each physiotherapy session, he watched his childhood friend become weaker. It was during this transition that he realized he needed to focus on something much bigger than himself.

“During this time, I realized that I could do more to help others. To be their inspiration, to lift their spirit or to just use my new-found passion for good.”

A major part of his rehabilitation was cycling, “hopping on a bike, concentrating and riding helps to deal with not only the physical, but also mental symptoms left behind from my accident.” The decision to cycle to raise funds and awareness for Josh became a clear path, for both of them, to begin to heal.

For Jankura, by choosing to change his mindset and take less for granted, Ride for Vibes was born. “I will bike out to the East Coast, making my way through Sydney, Nova Scotia, where Josh was born and will finish my journey in Cape Spear, Newfoundland – the furthest East I can travel by bike.”

Josh will have to make large purchases to accommodate his condition throughout his life. This fundraiser will help alleviate some of the worry about where the money to make these purchases will come from.

“It’s who we are as Canadians,” says Jankura.

The ride has meant a year of planning, mapping out routes that will keep him off major highways.  A quote he once heard provides inspiration to keep moving, ‘be naive enough to start, but stubborn enough to finish.’ 

He plans to bike 300 km a day for 12 days straight.

Funds donated will be put into a trust for Josh, a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the M.S Society of Canada. His personal goal is to raise $100,000 for MS Canada and Josh – so far, he’s raised over $20,000.

You can follow Jankura’s training and his Ride to Conquer MS on Instagram and make a donation at https://ca.gofundme.com/paul039s-bike-ride-to-conquer-ms

How the owner of Juici Yoga used her struggle with poverty, domestic abuse and racism to inspire change

Students are taught to consider how they move in the world, and whom they affect. “I live by the words of Maya Angelou “I come as One, but I stand as 10,000.”

Written for Kitchener Today

Selam Debs, owner of Juici Yoga, has become a voice for the voiceless in our community. Her empathy stems from personal hardships most of us could hardly fathom.

By hosting events like the Femcare Health Initiative, Inclusivity Diversity, Social Justice courses and Woke Women’s events, she heals.

Born in Amman, Jordan to Ethiopian parents – who left their birthplace due to conflict – she arrived in Canada at two-years of age.

Her parents would soon divorce, leading her to be raised by her mother who took on multiple low-paying jobs to stay afloat.

Molested when she was just nine-years-old, she would then be raped by two men, in the same night, at the age of 16.

“I experienced poverty, systemic racism, abuse and fear-based living.”

Debs relocated to Waterloo Region as a teenager. As an escape from reality, she would daydream about becoming a famous singer/songwriter. She would eventually find herself working with producers in the U.S., but her path would again lead her elsewhere when she found out she was pregnant. “The biological father walked away when I was six months pregnant and I became a single mother,” at the age of 21

Life experience, for Debs, would create a tireless empathy towards those who struggle. “I believe my purpose is to elevate the hearts and souls of those who are most marginalized, those who feel forgotten, to create spaces that feel safe and to share my story, unapologetically.”

She returned to K-W to raise her son and took a corporate job – soon realizing this wasn’t a path that would serve her, “it felt as if I was selling my soul.”

She describes finding her awakening during an abusive marriage, saying she became “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” During their separation, and later divorce, she studied to become a yoga teacher, became a Holistic Life Coach, and purchased Juici Yoga.  

Juici became her safe space to begin to “interrupt and end the generational cycle of abuse, poverty and fear. “Through my own healing and self-reflection, I am able to impact a generation of little girls and boys, and raise a new generation of hearts and minds to overcome their own personal history.”

Together, with her clients, they discover fullest potential.

She says she took over the studio when the opportunity literally fell into her lap. “I was going through a toxic divorce and the most overwhelming time of my life. At first, I taught almost all the classes as I couldn’t afford to hire more teachers. Clients left as they were not happy with the change – a common result of new business ownership.”

She rebranded and regained the trust of her clients and community.

Her practice, like her purpose-driven life, focuses on the importance of diversity, inclusivity and social justice. Students are of all backgrounds, ethnicities, body types, religions and creeds. “We support, and celebrate, initiatives such a Pride & LGBTQ+, FemCare Health Initiative for Menstrual Health and Equity, Black Lives Matter movements, Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo, and African Camp.”

Students are taught to consider how they move in the world, and whom they affect. “I live by the words of Maya Angelou “I come as One, but I stand as 10,000.”

Embracing the power of storytelling Debs was instrumental in co-building the Woke Women’s Event, showcasing an army of diverse women in our community through TED talk style delivery of music, dance, and poetry. This sold-out event was the first of its kind in Waterloo Region featuring keynote speaker Marva Wisdom director of the Black Experience Project and co-founder of Canadian Black History Projects.

You can join Selam and explore the healing power of community here

3 ways to avoid skin cancer this summer

As published on Kitchener Today

You can protect yourself from the harmful effects of heat and ultraviolet radiation – including skin cancer. Health Canada has tips on being proactive this summer.

1. Choose the right sunscreen

• Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

• Look for “water resistant” or “sport” on the sunscreen label. “Water resistant” or “sport” sunscreens have been formulated to stay on better if you are in the water or sweating. These sunscreen products still need to be reapplied after you get out of the water or after sweating heavily.

• Look for lip balms with SPF.

2. Proper use of sunscreen

• Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going outside and at least every 2 hours while you are outside. Apply it generously to any areas that are not covered by clothing, a hat, or sunglasses. Don’t forget your ears, the backs of your hands, and your scalp, if you have very short hair or are bald.

• Use sunscreen when UV index is 3 or higher (usually April to September).

• To get the full benefit from your sunscreen, it is important to use the recommended amount. For example, an adult should use about 7 teaspoons (35mL) of sunscreen to cover all areas of exposed skin (1 teaspoon for each arm, 1 teaspoon for each leg, 1 teaspoon for your front, 1 teaspoon for your back, and 1 teaspoon for your face and neck).

• Sunscreen and insect repellents can be used safely together. Apply the sunscreen first, wait 20 minutes, then the insect repellent.

3. Practice moderation

• The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 11 am and 3 pm – be mindful of your time outdoors during these hours.

• Wear a hat, sunglasses, protective clothing

• Find shade

• Protect yourself and your family even on cloudy days and in the winter, since snow is also a strong reflector of UV rays

• Keep babies out of the sun and heat as much as possible. They are much more sensitive to the sun than adults. If you are outside, keep your baby in the shade whenever possible and have them wear wide-brimmed sun hats, and light, loose-fitting clothing that covers their skin. Ask your health professional about using sunscreens on babies who are under 6 months old.

Sunburn Treatment

• Cool shower or cold compress

• Aloe gel

• Drink fluids

• ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain

Skin Cancer in Waterloo Region

According to A Population Health Status Report 2014, Melanoma was the sixth leading cancer diagnosed in Waterloo Region from 1986 to 2009. Incidence rates in both Waterloo Region and Ontario showed a steady increase during this period, with rates in Waterloo Region slightly higher than those in Ontario. Melanoma is most frequently found on men’s backs and on women’s backs and legs. It is the least common, but most serious, type of skin cancer. The mortality rate remained below 4.0 deaths per 100,000 people, with rates consistently higher among males than females. Skin cancer usually appears in adulthood, but can be caused by excessive sun exposure and sunburns in childhood. You can help prevent skin cancer by protecting your skin and your children’s skin from the harmful rays of the sun.

Waterloo Region Public Health and Emergency Services General Inquiries: 519-575-4400

Digital minimalism: the future of social media.

Published by Kitchener Today

There’s a new trend in town, one that promises engaging conversations – minus sneaky glimpses at phones. Digital minimalism is driven by a quest for tranquility and inner contentment – but what will this detachment mean to those who make a living online?

Local influencer, Azra Gregor – mindset coach, blogger and owner of Matrescend – says she “began as a mom blogger who wrote honest reflections of the many ups and downs of motherhood – something that wasn’t all too common back in 2015. That niche has exploded since then and I begin to feel a pull to expand on the topics I discussed online.”

Rather than measuring her personal success based on the number of followers she has she says, “it’s the one-on-one connections. I find that I’ve gathered many new friends and genuine connections, so it has never felt like a job to me.”

“It is a universal truth that less people will see your post in their feed than they did 2-3 years ago, however; which translates to a lesser amount of likes per post. I simply see it as change, not less success.”

How has/will Instagram’s removal of ‘likes’ change your business?

I think that there are a million factors at play when it comes to how well a business will do. That said, I’m not too concerned about “likes” being removed – it’s an artificial showing of how many people truly connected to your post. I know my message will still resonate with those it is meant to.

What does the future hold for online influencers?

There are so many people working with brands and writing blogs these days that it’s hard to keep up! I don’t think that will stop. But I do think that more people will get tired of the inauthenticity of sponsored posts and try to niche down to make more meaningful connections. At one point we all have to realize there’s a social responsibility we have to the public and our kids regarding what kind of content we produce.

What would you say to your followers who wish to take a break from social media?

Just do it! Start with a few days and lead up to a week. If it makes you terribly anxious, it’s probably a sign that you’re letting it affect you too much.

What do you love the most/dislike the most about social media?

What I love about social media is the potential it has to connect like-minded people so they feel less alone. What I dislike is the power it has to influence massive amounts of people and how it’s turning into a marketing platform.

Will you regulate your children’s access to social media?

In my world, the kids won’t have a phone until they’re at least 11. That means no tablets for my toddlers. We’ll see how realistic that is when the time comes! They’re still little.

What is online authenticity?

We don’t realize how much is a produced show with people as actors – which is fine for entertainment purposes. What I have an issue with is when people start jumping on bandwagons solely based on what someone has said or promoted – that doesn’t sit well with me. Meet these people in real life before going and changing your entire diet or wardrobe based on what one person eats or wears. The danger with following influencers and trends online is that critical thinking often goes out the window.

Azra is speaking, on this topic, on June 13 at The Causerie in Kitchener.

Grand River Hospital’s POGO Satellite Clinic: a place of healing for local children battling cancer.

Written for and published by Kitchener Today

Beyond the revolving doors, past the wheelchairs, resides the entrance to the POGO Satellite Clinic. Like a parent’s bedside after a bad dream, it’s a place where children go to feel safe. These children are battling cancer. The clinic is one of eight in Ontario.

Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (POGO) offers financial assistance to families to help ease some of the burdens associated with a childhood cancer diagnosis. POGO Satellite Clinics bring care closer to home for these families, also easing the burden of travel.

POGO Satellite Clinic Coordinator, and Resource Nurse for Children’s Outpatient Clinic, Cristina Peter has been with Grand River Hospital for eight years, “this was always where I wanted to be, in pediatric oncology.” She describes the best part of the job as “seeing the kids coming in looking well – able to receive their treatment, leave, and return to school.”

“Kids go through this and it’s the hardest journey of their lives, but many times they’re happy, singing, dancing and playing. It’s just amazing.”

The GRH POGO Satellite Clinic is the only hospital that sees children from all three tertiary centers; The Hospital for Sick Children, London Health Sciences and McMaster Children’s Hospital. Kids come to the clinic for anything from bloodwork, to chemotherapy. Clinic staff remain in communication with pediatric oncologists from the referral hospital.

Peter says all of the children are special to her, although; the ones that are diagnosed in the clinic hold an extra emotional connection. “Jonathan (J.T.) is one of the many families in our area that came in with symptoms and was diagnosed in our clinic. So, we were there when he had his first bloodwork done and results come in. Watching the family go through a cancer diagnosis is heartbreaking, but at the same time when you see them coming back feeling well and happy then it just helps us deal with the grief as well.”

Leanne Kukla, J.T.’s mom, recalls their cancer journey, “J.T. hadn’t been well for months but we didn’t know what it was.” Eventually they were referred to Sick Kids. On January 31, 2018 Jonathan’s family received a cancer diagnosis; non-Hodgkins’s T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, stage 3. He was 10.

Childhood cancer affects the entire family. During critical stages of his treatment, J.T. and his mom lived at the Ronald McDonald House, in Toronto – separated from his dad and sister; Amber. Once he was in the intermittence phase, he was referred to the GRH POGO Satellite Clinic.

Again, they found themselves facing fear of change, “we were comfortable with the team in Toronto. We didn’t know what to expect or who we’d be working with.”

During their first visit they met Cristina. Leanne knew it was going to be ok when J.T. turned to her and said, “you know I think it’s going to be nice here.”

With treatment now 15 minutes from home, J.T. can attend school and sleeps soundly in his own bed – under the same roof as his mom, dad and sister.

“I can do anything, pretty much. I play hockey, I have a tournament this weekend, I’m excited for that.”

The Kukla family has also accessed POGO’s financial support – including meals and accommodations. “It’s not something you expect to have to spend, you have to and you don’t think twice about it but having the extra support, it’s been helpful.”

J.T. is in treatment until June 2020.

Find out more about POGO here.

KW Run for POGO happens early fall, find out more here.

Leanne Kukla, J.T. and Cristina Peter (left to right)