As a passionate humanitarian and leader, Maike Van Niekerk is one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 and a Rhodes Scholar, she uses her humanitarian and advocacy work to shed light on various issues faced by minority populations in hopes of inspiring and empowering others to take action to create change in the lives of those around them. Maike has also recently been honoured with the Newfoundland Red Cross Young Humanitarian of the Year and among 100 of Canada’s Most Powerful Women.
After losing her mother at the age of 15 to breast cancer, Maike has dedicated her life to helping those faced with the similar illness. Maike is the founder of Katrin’s Karepackage (KK), an initiative named after her mother. Endorsed by the Canadian Cancer Society, KK helps offset travel costs for Newfoundland and Nova Scotian cancer patients travelling for cancer-related appointments. In the summer of 2014 she biked across NL and recently she ran 7 consecutive marathons across NL the 7 days before Christmas. Since 2014, over $110,000 has been raised.
One of the things I first noticed about Maike when I first met her was her smile and her contagious laugh. Though years and distance have kept us apart, just the memory of meeting her and being her friend, is a wonderful blessing. I think through her story, you’ll not only think of it as inspiring, but you’ll feel as if your heart is being hugged. Often through some of my darkest times, I think about Maike and who she is as a person. Her positivity and perseverance, beauty and courage, shed light on possibilities. For me, it was the possibility of recovering again and finding resilience in my pain.
I felt super discouraged in the hospital but after recovering for the past year, I thought I would use that experience to highlight how others have gotten through obstacles and share their inspiring stories with the readers/followers of my blog. One of the first questions is what is an obstacle you’ve faced and how did you go about moving past and overcome that obstacle?
Maike: The greatest obstacle that I faced, by far, was losing my mother to breast cancer in high school. Her death was unexpected, and it flipped mine and my family’s worlds upside down. Many people ask me how I have overcome that obstacle in my life. However, I don’t think I will ever truly “overcome” it. Instead, I have learned ways to deal with the void of not having her physically here. Helping other cancer patients, for example, has helped me to fill that void in some ways. Hearing the stories from cancer patients, cancer survivors, and individuals who have lost loved ones from cancer have been extremely inspiring, have shaped the person I am today, and have helped me to move forward from my mother’s passing.
I think you phrase it perfectly and bring new insight to the phrase “overcoming obstacles.” Often times, though we don’t feel great pain and seemingly have gotten through a difficult phase of our life, we are still dealing with the aftermath of what has happened. Do you think you could speak more to how you found your path to filling the void or what others, who might be going through something difficult, could do?
Maike: I think it’s extremely important for people to know that when they’re “overcoming obstacles” it’s okay to not be okay. It’s easy nowadays to have social media showcase an idealized journey through adversity but often times the journey is anything but. I understand social media and various platforms often portray my story as one that is “successful”. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like it. I appreciate when people think of my story as inspiring and to have been able to have the opportunity to commemorate my mother’s memory but at the same time, I think it’s a bit scary to have people message me who have gone through similar experiences and feel guilty that they weren’t able to commemorate their loved ones in the same way that I was able to. Overcoming obstacles is not necessarily needing to do something or having something good come out of a negative experience. There are various ways to deal with adversity. Just for me personally, my way of grieving and finding the ability to build resilience was to start Katrin’s Karepackage. For some people, it’s important to just grieve. I know for my sister, it was important for her to have that time to grieve and to be emotional. It’s just that I needed to intellectualize the situation and I don’t think any method is better. There are times, I wish that I was able to have reacted in a more emotional way like my sister, but my sister often found herself wanting to have fundraised like I did. Because everyone is different, their reactions to their obstacles in life will be met with different reactions and that’s okay. Don’t compare yourself with others on how you’re dealing with your difficulties and it’s important to know that you don’t need to deal with the situation in a certain way. Allow yourself to cope with things in the way that works the best for you and most important be patient with yourself.
*Maike has recently launched her book: Faces Facing Cancer. You can purchase one at The Lodge That Gives or online at: http://www.blurb.ca/b/8303784-faces-facing-cancer For more details, visit www.katrinskarepackage.com/faces-facing-cancer/