Rebecca O'Brien

Rebecca O’Brien - Olivia’s Mother

The seemingly small daily choices we make affect our health, and those around us, locally and globally (there is nothing revolutionary in this thought, though it is remarkable to me how the simplest, most obvious facts are consistently ignored by people).

Thousands of Canadians who have been personally affected by cancer or other health challenges that are aggravated or linked to pesticide use (either themselves, family or friends) will joyfully embrace their bottle of Round-up or similar pesticide, each Spring and Summer, exterminating the dangerous deadly unsightly dandelions on their lawns with a press of a button.

Which brings me to my ten-year-old daughter, Olivia, who at the age of five was diagnosed with stage four Rhabdomysarcoma, an unusual cancer of the muscle tissue. Though we were given bleak statistics, Olivia has managed to survive this cancer (thanks to the staff and treatment at the IWK hospital in Halifax) and is now in good health.

Still there are always lingering worries for us. Olivia has had a very aggressive treatment, both heavy chemotherapy and radiation, and her body has been exposed to a remarkable amount of toxins. As her oncologist says, there are certain basic exposures children with illnesses like Olivia’s cannot have. She must stay away from too much sun, smoking, too much sugar and poor nutrition… and chemicals like the pesticides that many Canadians don’t think twice about spraying on their lawns.

I can control the exposure to the sun, the cigarette smoke, the nutrition, but how can I stop her from going outside in Calgary? From playing ball in the park? From playing on her school grounds? From walking in the neighbourhood? From visiting a friend? All of these places may be treated with pesticides, some in small amounts, some in large dosages. Some might have warnings posted, most will not.

Due to the nature of Olivia’s cancer, there is no such thing as remission; if it recurs, she will die. So when I see or hear about pesticides being applied, especially in my neighbourhood, it is hard for me to articulate how I feel. Except that when we lived in Halifax (which has a pesticide bylaw) I never had to worry about the effect one person’s dislike of weeds would have on my daughter.

Our family enjoys living in this vibrant city. We want a pesticide bylaw passed so we can all feel more relaxed that Olivia can flourish and be healthy here.