Mary’s Story: Cancer, Job Loss, Homelessness and A Pandemic

Date 15 Dec, 2021

You might have preconceived notions of how a person ends up living in a homeless shelter. The truth is, no one chooses to be homeless. And the people who are experiencing this – they don’t want to be there. They want to go home. Be home. Have a home.

And no one thinks one day, they’ll be so vulnerable that they are forced to seek sanctuary in a shelter. Every person’s story is different, unique and often caused by a series of sudden, unfortunate events that brought them to seek sanctuary at FIRST’s doors. We invite you to read Mary’s story. It’s a tough read at times. But it will move you.

For Mary, a petite, elegant lady with a posh British accent, Covid-19 caused her to lose her job, then she lost her home – at the same time as being diagnosed with breast and lung cancer. That’s how she ended up with us, along with her two 16-year-old rescue cats Pit and Wilberforce.

Mary, we appreciate you sharing your story of courage and resilience. We stand by you. We’re cheering for you to kick this cancer and get back to the life you love, a good cup of English Breakfast tea, and your home. To join us in our work supporting Mary and the thousands of others we serve each year, you can donate now.


Hello everyone,

I’m Mary. So where to start with my story?

My parents have both passed away. My dad was from Alberta and my mum from the UK. I was born in Austria. I went to boarding school in the UK and lived in 13 countries. My favorite place was Puerto Rico.

My mum chose to move to Vancouver as it’s the warmest city in Canada. I was the primary caretaker to my mother who was blind and crippled. When she passed, I needed to get a job. I got into fundraising and worked for Children In Need, Surrey Women’s Center, and MADD. I’m a caring person, so fundraising was a good fit for me.

At the early start of Covid-19, my downward spiral happened and it seemed like my whole life fell apart in one go.

In January 2020, I fell on ice and cracked a rib and got myself to hospital. Then, I found out in March 2020, not only that it was a global pandemic, but that I had cancer.

I lost my job due to the pandemic and soon found out that I had not just one, but three types of cancers. 

To top it off, my landlord wanted his property back so his son and his girlfriend could live there. I was a good tenant – never late on rent. My landlord evicted me semi-illegally through a lawyer and I was unable to fight it or find another place to live. And that’s how I eventually ended up here, at the shelter.

I ended up at FIRST because it’s pet friendly and I’ve been here for about five months now. I have two rescue cats. Pit and Wilberforce who are 16 years old.

Since I arrived here, it’s been a culture shock. Quite honestly. I never imagined my future to be in a shelter. And it’s been hard emotionally, especially while having cancer.

Everyone who ends up here are here for different reasons and personal challenges. Everyone staying here is going through hard times. This means to some extent, you are surrounded by that pain, while also going through your own pain and darkest hours.

Donate now to provide essential services, healing, and community connection. All donations are being matched up to $225,000 until December 31.

FIRST has been great though. Through their tax program here, I managed to get my taxes done – three years of taxes. This was absolutely amazing as the government owed me money. I worked with Stephanie, my case planner. Stephanie also got me on the BC housing list for permanent housing.

I also help around here when I can. I took another FIRST resident to the hospital when they had an asthma attack. I also administered CPR to someone who had stopped breathing and was able to keep them alive till an ambulance came.

Right now, I don’t know what the future holds. The main thing, at the moment, is my health issues. I got cancer in both breasts and my lung and it looks like it may have moved into the bone. This was not a great year to get diagnosed with cancer.

This is one of the frustrations of the pandemic. All the surgeons and doctors have been focused on Covid-19 so my treatments and biopsies have been held back.

The longer you wait, the harder it is to treat the cancer. It’s got to the point where when I breathe or talk, it hurts.

If I don’t get treatment, it will kill me. The future seems very uncertain. And while this is happening, I don’t even have a home.

But the staff here are always trying to cheer me up – mostly with terrible jokes – taking the piss, cause they know I can handle it.

What stands out about FIRST is the friendships. Every one of the staff seem like friends and that projects to everyone else around here. It’s a friendly atmosphere.

George and Stephanie are those staff members I can always go to if I have a problem. George –  he’s funny. He’s good at his job. And Stephanie – Stephanie and I get on well and have from the beginning. She’s helped me with so much.

One of the things I really like about FIRST is the meal program. It’s been hard during Covid. Food is in short supply for many people, so the program is really good.

Also that FIRST allows pets.

My cats bring me joy. Being able to keep them with me matters so much.

Final thoughts? It’s been a terrible year for me. My world has fallen apart. I am very grateful for FIRST and the help, support and friendship I have received during a very dark hour of my life. FIRST staff have even helped me get medical appointments.

So yes, FIRST actually helps save lives. First United is needed. It helps us all.

If you can give a gift to support FIRST, I encourage you to do so. They make such a difference in people’s lives and help people get back on track.

Thanks for listening to my story. I still have hope. I’m still looking up.

Yours Truly,

Mary

P.S. You can also see me interviewed in the First Forward video here.

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