Brain cancer weakens the leadership for local midwives and breastfeeding support

By Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

Vilia Tosio (far right) out with her family during the Christmas holidays in December 2015. Tosio is currently receiving brain cancer treatment in Calgary. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Vilia Tosio (far right) out with her family during the Christmas holidays in December 2015. Tosio is currently receiving brain cancer treatment in Calgary. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Representatives of the Fort McMurray Breastfeeding Support Group and local MaternityCare Consumers of Alberta Network (MCAN) are seeking help from the community, after their strong leader Vilia Tosio has undergone cancer treatment.

After having a brain tumour removed on August 18, 2015, Tosio is on the road to recovery, and she hasn’t lost her humour or bright spirit.

“I have a very aggressive form of brain cancer,” she said on a recent phone interview from Calgary on January 23. “Some think that because you have brain cancer, you’re going to die tomorrow,” she laughed. “But, you just have to be grateful.”

“I have a very aggressive form of brain cancer,” she said on a recent phone interview from Calgary on January 23. “Some think that because you have brain cancer, you’re going to die tomorrow,” she laughed. “But, you just have to be grateful.”

In October 2015, Tosio announced to friends, family and community colleagues that she had the tumour removed and was starting radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.

“(The treatment) was supposed to start mid-September, but was delayed a few weeks. It is for 30 weekday sessions, which run the same time as daily chemo treatment,” she shared in the original email announcement.

Tosio began to first experience nausea in August 2015. She found she wasn’t walking straight and suffered severe headaches. Tosio drove a motorized-vehicle for her last time on August 11.

“I was driving down Confederation Way, and merging into the traffic on Highway 63. I narrowly avoided hitting a big black truck that I had not seen and took the hospital road off-ramp.”

“I was driving down Confederation Way, and merging into the traffic on Highway 63. I narrowly avoided hitting a big black truck that I had not seen and took the hospital road off-ramp. As I took the off-ramp, a car in front of me was slowing down, and so I braked as well and noticed that my car did not slow down as quickly as I would have liked, as I took a long time to brake,” she said.

A few days later, Tosio’s cognitive skills were worsening and her friend Behnoush Ahranjani took her to an after-hours clinic. After the doctor did an assessment, he suggested she should have an MRI scan.

Tosio went to the Emergency Room at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre. The ER doctor told her she had a tumour and was transferred to a hospital in Edmonton, and then later to Calgary.

Due to the need for proper medical treatment and care, Tosio had to make the quick decision to move to Calgary and sell her Fort McMurray condo.

Today, the local representatives and volunteers are moving forward to keep Tosio’s message as strong as she has been through her recovery.

“I think the best way to give back to Vilia is to help move forward the projects that she started in the community and was championing,” said Alexandra Tarasenco, a close friend to Tosio. “For her knowing that they are still going on and people take the initiative is the best reward and recognition.”

For almost eight years, Tosio has been an ambassador for several women’s health projects within the region, which started off through her works as a breastfeeding consultant.

In April 2011, she founded the Fort McMurray Breastfeeding Support Group, which has provided residents the opportunity to meet with counsellors, doulas and registered nurses. Tosio has also been acting as a regional representative for MaternityCare Consumers of Alberta (MCAN), alongside local registered nurse Lucie Lapierre.

Due to her philanthropy efforts, Tosio was nominated and given special recognition in the 2014 Mayor and Council’s Toast of Champions. Also, she was awarded the Volunteer Recognition Award in honour of Bill Bloomfield at the 2015 Heart of Wood Buffalo awards.

Meranda Bos is a local doula and gives credit to Tosio for bringing out her abilities in helping others. Bos recently took over Tosio’s role as a MCAN representative for the region.

“Vilia has made an impact on the community with helping so many families through the prenatal education,” Bos said.

“Vilia has made an impact on the community with helping so many families through the prenatal education,” Bos said. “She brought many different people together with the same passion. She got the community talking about how important birth choices are for women and their families. Vilia really encouraged me to pursue leadership in the community.”

Tosio continues to hope for continued support for prenatal and postnatal health care in Fort McMurray and the region. She voices her concerns on the community having a birthing centre, something she’s been trying to channel for many years.

“We really need one centre for everyone, where there can be midwives and breastfeeding support together to help women,” she said. “We need an environment where it is safe, and non-judgemental.”

As for her inspiration – past and present, Tosio said, “It comes from the mothers. I hope I can use their stories to inspire others.”

For women and families seeking support; visit the Fort McMurray Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook. The group meet every Monday at MacDonald Island Park from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and on Wednesday at 100 Millennium Gate from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information on MaternityCare Consumers of Alberta Network at www.maternitycarealberta.com.

– Connect Weekly –