I have worked for Karla for over five years and before the Circle of Strength event, we had never met in person. When I was first invited, I didn’t know if I wanted to go. It felt so personal and meant for people who were much more important to Karla’s life than me. It felt intimidating for someone who spends most of their working life alone at home. But Karla won we over with her enthusiasm and support (as she has done for countless others throughout her life). So on a rainy day in September of 2019, I headed out without knowing what to expect.
As you pulled up to the properly, it still looked like it could have been any old event (other than maybe for the designer portable bathroom). There were a few balloons attached to a status of a horse dripping with colorful paint. An unassuming staff member stood waiting to direct guests along to the side of the house and through to the backyard.
As someone who has never been to Karla’s house before, I took a second even before walking to the back to revel in the serenity and beauty of this section of the city. My Toronto takes place in a tiny basement apartment in a quieter but still central section of downtown. It is nearly impossible to get this laid-back neighborhood feel in the middle of the hustle and bustle. This was a half an hour GO Train trip but a whole different world.
It had rained the night before and the skies threatened to open up again. There was a path of plywood laid over the mud so that we could make our way to the registration table without ruining shoes or hemlines. After all, Karla had inspired many to dress in our pink and sparkly best.
While it was a little chilly outside, the warmth of this event hit you the second you turned the corner and could see the splendor of the ethereal tents giving off a soft pink glow, the lush grounds with a mix of forest greens, the smell and sound of the lake and the art pieces that made a statement throughout.
Adrienne Fish was the first to take the stage – a local Toronto comedian and our MC for the day. Her mix of joy and humor quickly drowned out the rain from outside and introduced us to some of the details of the day. She complimented Karla’s vision perfectly – she was witty and easy going and had just the right ability to talk about “inappropriate” or taboo topics in an accessible and lighthearted way.
Then Karla took to the stage to welcome us all and speak a little about her intentions for the day and for holding such an event. She thanked the large group of women that helped to bring the whole day together (everyone working the event, from planning to execution, other than two technicians, were women!).
Before Karla left the stage, the first surprise of the day arrived in the form of a giant bra that was big enough to use as a hammock. It was filled with quotes from the Circle of Strength WhatsApp group of what members were hoping for and what they feared for the day. Fears ranged from anxiety over meeting new people or not feeling that they were fully worthy of an invite to worrying that it might rain. Hopes ranged from just getting a few minutes with the Birthday Girl to wanting to be inspired by the strength that would surround them for the day.
This was literally a huge symbol of support for all of us to keep in our minds throughout the day. While it might be intimidating to come into something like this – not knowing what to expect and with people who have achieved so much all over the world – this was a reminder that we were all in this together and would take it on together.
Adrienne then came back on stage to invite a woman who has greatly inspired Karla over the last few years to come up and speak. Jane Kovarikova is the founder of Child Welfare Political Action Committee. In lieu of presents, flowers or even cards, Karla asked that attendants to this event donate to Jane’s organization that advocates for child currently in the foster care system and those who have aged out and are now trying to make it on their own with the limited resources that are currently given to former crown wards.
Jane herself was in the foster care system as a child and beat the odds by pursuing higher education and working towards her PhD. Most adults who come out of the Canadian foster care system are not in a position to attend college or university and many do not even finish high school. Jane and her team push for changes on the provincial and federal level to laws and policies affecting foster kids, as well as working with organizations, like universities and colleges, to offer more services to those that were raised in the system.
This led into the first seminar of the day, inspired by one of Karla’s biggest physical struggles during her first few months after diagnosis:
I AM MY POOP
Anyone who was following along when Karla was first in the hospital and getting used to all of her new medications knows that she no longer sees the discussion of bowel movements (or, more specifically, the lack thereof) to be a taboo topic. When we’re feeling healthy, we can forget that having consistent bodily functions is a luxury that many do not enjoy. And it can really throw your life into upheaval when you don’t know why you’re having issues.
The first seminar of the day was led by nutritionist and founder of Sexy Food Therapy Inc., Melissa Ramos. Melissa is known as the “hormone and poop whisperer” and her presentation was all about learning to understand what your poop is trying to tell you about your body and suggestions of products that could help you control your own digestion.
While we all know that changes in your poop can signal a number of different short-term illnesses, this session was about how if you’re having difficulty in the bathroom, this can be a sign that you might want to see your doctor or should make some changes in your diet. In advance of the session, participants were welcomed to send in questions that would be addressed anonymously during the seminar. There was also a live Q & A period where all of the women present were encouraged to bring up any additional queries that they might have.
To view a complete recording of this session, click here.
Being the first session of the day, you could see that there was still some hesitation by most of the guests when it came to opening up and putting everything on the table. While Melissa created a comfortable environment, not everyone is at Karla’s level yet when it comes to talking about their own poop! We definitely saw that this would be a day full of pushing boundaries and challenging pre-conceived notions.
After the session, we were split up into our country groups and set off to the first of four smaller sessions. On the way, we had a chance to grab a snack and a drink from the healthy and delicious offerings provided by Kerr St. Café, including homemade granola, bento boxes, organic juice and a variety of baked treats.
Continue to Part 2