Nursing student with cancer diagnosis fights to keep housing unit

Toni Anderson and her four children, photographed days before Anderson discovered a lump in her breast. Photo: Shawna Peterson Photography

Facing the prospect of losing her home during cancer treatment, a Yellowknife woman is asking for the community’s help to find a solution through social media.

Toni Anderson is a second-year nursing student at Aurora College in Yellowknife. After separating from her husband last year, she moved into student housing with her four young children.

On Tuesday, the 34-year-old took to Facebook to share her story.

Shortly after moving into student housing, Anderson found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She is on targeted IV therapy for a year and will soon undergo intense chemotherapy, a month and a half of radiation treatment, and surgery.



“When I was diagnosed, it was close to the end of my first term of second year,” Anderson told Cabin Radio.

“I did manage to successfully complete all my classes. It just wasn’t feasible for me to go to full-time studies this semester, mostly because I’m immunocompromised.”

Aurora College’s policy states only full-time students are eligible for student housing, though exceptions can be made.

Such an exception was made for Anderson, allowing her to drop down to part-time studies and remain in student housing with her children as she dealt with her cancer diagnosis.



However, Anderson said she received word on Tuesday that she and her children must move out of the residence by the end of June, despite her intention to return to full-time studies in January 2022.

Anderson says she is now in the “stressful and awful” situation of having nowhere to go after that.

“I live here with my four kids, so obviously it was devastating to find out that my housing situation is unclear,” she said.

“I was set to receive a bursary but I couldn’t get it this January like I expected, and I’m not eligible for student financial aid any more. So right when I lost all my financial resources, I’m looking at losing my housing as well.”

In her post on Facebook, Anderson expressed this uncertainty and asked fellow Yellowknifers to share her story with their MLA. Yellowknife North’s Rylund Johnson said he would “coordinate with the other Yellowknife MLAs and report back.”

“Aurora College is overseen by the NWT government,” Anderson wrote. “My best hope now is that the government will intervene on my behalf on the grounds of compassion.

“I love Aurora College and the faculty have been so great to me through this diagnosis, but I am very disappointed at this decision from the overall institution.”

Community shows support

In a written response to Cabin Radio, Jeff O’Keefe – Aurora College’s vice president of student affairs – said the college was “unable to speak to the situation of individual students.”



O’Keefe wrote: “Aurora College has a limited supply of student housing and units are allocated based on program of study, program duration and community of residence. There is usually a waiting list, especially for larger family units.

“The Aurora College team is dedicated to supporting students in their studies as well as in their life outside the classroom, including connecting students with appropriate community supports and exploring available options for student housing.”

Anderson in the chemotherapy unit at Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital. Photo: Submitted

Anderson says she has yet to receive help from the college in finding alternative housing.

She added the unit beside hers has been vacant since October. She believes the unit she currently occupies will be vacant when she moves out.

Anderson said she shared her story online as “Yellowknife is this amazing community. I’ve met so many wonderful people since I’ve lived here.”

She told Cabin Radio: “I was hoping friends would advocate for me, so I don’t have to fight all by myself for housing when I’m going through cancer treatment.”

Since moving to Yellowknife in 2016, Anderson has served as chair of the non-profit Moms, Boobs, and Babies. She was on the boards of Canadian Parents for French in the NWT and the Yellowknife Playgroup Association.

Anderson said she had heard from Johnson alongside Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland and Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, who is also the minister of health and social services.



“I really appreciate that,” Anderson said. “It means a lot to me.”

She added: “My kids have been through a lot. It’s really stressful for them. They are scared. It’s uncertain – especially my oldest.

“Even just the stability of being in the same place is really important to me.”