a photo of huntsville town council candidate kathleen may. she has brown hair and gold glasses. she looks into the camera and smiles

Kathleen May for Huntsville Town and District Council

If you want the platform, click here. If you want the story, read on.

“So, what are you getting up to this time?” It’s the familiar voice of my dear friend Tanis. Tanis is well accustomed to my adventure announcements. From solo backpacking an 80km interior trail, to proposing and then starting my local television show herstories, to taking heroic doses of CBD oil in hopes of reigning in the cancer that had already necessitated surgery, radiation, and chemo – for all those journeys and more, Tanis has been there, asking me, “What on earth are you doing now?”

No exception today. At 8pm on August 18th, I decided I’m going to do it. What now? Run for Huntsville Town and District Council, of course. 25 signatures are due tomorrow, August 19th, at 2pm. Oh, and I leave for an overnight shift at the women’s shelter in 45 minutes. What on earth am I doing?

When I was in the thick of the cancer experience, I blogged regularly. I used the process of writing as a conduit to understand what I was feeling – there were a lot of feelings, ones I anticipated and ones I never expected to feel. I had a social worker and a therapist, a close and beloved circle of friends, and strangers who reached out to support me. But no one can get into my head like me, so I fell back on what has always been there: writing. I wrote through despair and grief and intrigue and humility and existentialism and fear and joy.

And I shared almost all of it, because something notable happened whenever I did: someone would reach out to me and say how much this honesty meant to them in their own journey. It reinforced what I always suspected – that we are each of us enveloped in the entropy of our own stories, so often beyond our control. But we are never alone. And the most basic act of speaking our truths is revolutionary. Writing was not new to me, but this raw, exposing honesty was different. Compulsive, energized, gut-wrenching. I wrote because there was no other way.

And then… the cancer journey continued after the last blog post was released. But I didn’t need to process it in the same way anymore. I was in a place of presence and acceptance. I used social media to give updates, but I stopped writing the long navel-gazing entries (“If you gaze long enough into the navel, the navel gazes back into you,” I believe the saying goes).

When a friend and fellow cancer experiencer came to the door recently with an abundance of pea shoots to share, she surprised me by asking when I was going to write an update on my health. I checked my website – my last post had been on November 9, 2020. That surprised me. An update, I thought. Yes, I want to do that. So though I’m writing this to present my political platform and intentions in running for Huntsville Town and District Council, I’ve granted myself this space to weave in news about my world in all its facets.

On February 7th 2020, ten days after a radical hysterectomy to remove cancer, I found myself in my Nurse Practitioner’s office getting 30+ staples removed and asking her to be a signatory for my candidacy for council. Instead of an election, the town opened the floor to anyone who wanted to apply, so long as they could get 3 signatures. There was one open seat, and the council itself would cast the vote.

My mom was my first supporter. Then the Nurse Practitioner signed. I needed a third. My mom and I walked down Main St. to Town Hall. Despite anxiety being as familiar to me as a childhood scar, I wasn’t stressed about finding my third signature. And there she was… my yoga instructor, in all her tie-dyed glory, on her way to the studio. She provided the final signature and I went inside Town Hall and got verified as a candidate.

I did not win that round – they voted back in the man whose seat had been vacated. But I gained so much experience and I got to know other candidates who would become dear friends and allies in our shared mission to see Huntsville become a thriving community for all. I spoke into the microphone and talked about my dream for Hexagon, a land co-operative for women that I hope to see to fruition. I shared what I knew about growing up in Huntsville, what I witnessed as a shelter worker, how I felt I could help. I detailed women’s resiliency and fortitude, and the areas where we as a town are failing our neighbours. I looked everyone in their eyes. I tried.

Thank goodness I failed.

The timing would have been terrible, it turned out. Only a few months later, I started chemoradiation and I left Huntsville to live at the Rotary building in Barrie so I wouldn’t have to travel while so ill. I was on a leave from the shelter and I’d had to put a halt to all my volunteer work and even my writing jobs, including my much-loved column She Speaks at the Huntsville Doppler. This became a time for introspection and near-impossible decisions. I wasn’t ready.

But I realized something I don’t think I knew before that day I traipsed down Main St., confident that everything would work out. I realized that I wanted this. I wanted to be a part of this council of deciders, of megaphones, of sculptors of this town.

So I put that interesting information away and got back to trying to not have cancer anymore.

Here’s a whirlwind tour of the two years that followed:

I attended the Enliven Cancer Care’s gala, my first opportunity to dress up and my first glass of wine since my surgery.

I participated in a contest run by Huntsville Theatre Company and wrote a one-act play called “Wouldn’t Miss It”, which was judged against other writers and my submission won. I got to see my short play performed at the Algonquin Theatre, made doubly special because one of the women I met through this event happened to be another of the candidates for the Council seat!

My partner Kai, who has been a source of joy as well as an inexhaustible support throughout this unexpected detour in our then-new relationship (Iceland! Hawai’i! Cancer! Cancer?!), allowed me to turn an unfinished shelter on her property into a studio so I could write and be immersed in nature. My friend Jay spent many buggy days teaching me what needed to be done to complete the building, including two full days of lessons on why installing a door is wayyyy more complicated than I ever thought possible. He and my cherished friend and mentor Nancy taught me about creating a living space that is warm, welcoming, and reflects pure heart, and I worked to replicate that for myself.

After shortlisting for the CBC Non-Fiction Prize in 2019 for my piece The Long Driveway, I submitted something stylistically unusual to the CBC Short Story Prize and ended up being longlisted for my piece Northwest and Back. These accolades, along with the NYC Midnight flash fiction contests reinvigorated my love for fiction and my longing to create new worlds. Kai and I were approached to join an intimate writers’ group, where I was supported in sharing my poetry, which is less polished than my fiction and non-fiction. I took to writing poetry as a means of expressing the inexpressible, pulling directly from my medical notes and crafting a healing dialogue with self.

I delivered a talk at the Algonquin Theatre for a YWCA event called She Talks. I spoke about experiencing child sexual abuse, about trauma, about finding my place in this universe. I was developing my voice as a precision instrument instead of a blunt force.

As a step toward my Hexagon dream, I bid on the tiny house the Huntsville High School students built (and nearly completed) and I had the winning bid. The following months were a stress-fest of trying to get the tiny house to my mom’s property, but finally got it settled onto the freshly installed gravel pad. One day, I hope the tiny house will be a part of a larger collection of tiny homes for women in our community.

My calendar for this stretch of time is really revealing. Although the above might seem like a lot, these events, while prominent in memory, were far between. There were long stretches of empty days on the calendar, days spent learning how to be me after a life-altering diagnosis. I have more medical professionals on my team than I can name, but let’s try: nurse practitioner, gynecologist, oncologist, hematologist, endocrinologist, dermatologist, urologist, neurologist, physical therapist, endoscopist, social worker, therapist, genetic counsellor, sleep clinic specialist, and surely more.

My oncologist finally told me early this year that my follow-ups could go to every six months instead of every three. I have Lynch Syndrome, a mismatch repair gene that means I have an alarmingly high risk of developing colon cancer, and getting cancer in my ovaries and endometrium was a disguised blessing because now I will always be monitored for cancer. It can’t sneak up on me, nor on my mom and sister who also both have Lynch Syndrome and were tested because of my experience. But I didn’t quite make it through those six months…

While on a night shift at work, excruciating pain in my left side struck quite violently. After I was mercifully relieved at work, I went to Emerg (thank goodness we have a hospital in Huntsville, something we cannot lose), and several hours later the pain had been medically eased. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have a CT scan right away because I have an allergy to certain CT contrast dyes and so had to do a 12-hour allergy protocol including prednisone and benedryl. They finally scanned me and discovered my left ureter was completely blocked.

The concern of course was that the cancer has returned (the area is where my ovary tumour burst during surgery). The urologist inserted a stent (which reminds me, it’s still in my purse) into my ureter to force it to allow urine to pass again. The was Not A Good Time, and I was overjoyed when they took it out. The doc believe it wasn’t cancer that caused my ureter to fail, but rather scar tissue from the major surgeries. Now I have one kidney operating at 21% with no certainty that it will ever return to normal, and I’m back to imaging and follow-ups every three months just in case.

During these years, Kai, my mom, and I also went camping; we went to concerts outdoors; we did our best to navigate COVID, which was the second-or-third-scariest health crisis I was facing. I went back to work. I learned how to be Me After Everything.

Vital side-note (that is sure to explode into a front-and-centre note and yes this blog post is about running for Town Council, the election for which is October 24, fast approaching by the time you’re done reading this), I also got really into gardening during my sick leave. Like, REALLY into gardening. I’ve got about 1/3 of an acre to work with on my mom’s property, and I fell in love with tending it. I made it a project to identify all the plant species on the plot, surprised by the final tally. Then I started planting more. The tally went up. Then I learned about invasive species. Tally went down (then back up; invasives are like that).

Finally, I started to devote my attention on plants that are native to this region. I learned that most of the plants in garden centres, and indeed in most gardens, are not native to the area. Many plants sold as ornamentals are actually invasive (like the ubiquitous Japanese barberry and burning bush you see all over Huntsville). I made it my mission to turn the backyard into an oasis for native plants and therefore native insects, which would increase pollination, support the bird population, and generally bring a flurry of life to a small, almost drab plot of land.

I learned about winter sowing, which is perfect for native seeds and perfect for a lazy gardener like myself. I bought seeds and filled 28 take-out containers with sterile soil, spread the seeds on top, and sprinkled a little sand or soil over them, though most seeds were left totally uncovered atop the soil. I placed clear plastic lids on the containers and put them on top of the snow in January. And I waited.

Being my first year using this method, I was thrilled that 20 of the containers sprouted copious seedlings. There others never sprouted or, oops, got cooked in their little greenhouses. This year I’ll use bigger containers and place them in a shaded spot to manage these issues. Once the sedlings grew true leaves, I replanted them, all in a tight bunch, into larger plastic pots with more soil. I have hundreds of seedlings now (did I mention the yard is only 1/3 of an acre?). Then, when I was feeling zesty, I got on the internet and bought about 30 more packets of native seeds, which can all be winter-sown. By the time the first frost arrives, I’ll be in the garden, finding homes for hundreds of cardinal flowers, ironweed, butterfly weed, meadowsweet, prairie smoke, and more. And already this season I’ve seen more native pollinators than previous years – maybe in part because I’m paying more attention.

My awareness of the climate crisis has turned this hobby into a devotional path. I can’t seem to grow a tomato to save my life, but native perennials are my jam, and I intend to spread the bounty. We need pollinators to survive, and the ecosystem they and we depend on is collapsing. I am an advocate for big-picture change – make corporations and billionaires accountable for the disproportionate energy and resources they consume to the detriment of the planet and its less affluent citizens. So I don’t put a lot of stock in ‘you can end climate change by recycling more and turning off the water while you brush your teeth’ (no judgment). I don’t believe individual action alone can solve a problem of this magnitude, and in fact I think we’ve been brainwashed to hyper-focus on individual responsibility so the finger is never truly pointed at the problem. And yet… I know that if everyone with a 1/3 acre to work with started growing native plants, we would be better prepared to confront what is staring us down.

So plant a native flower – and never forget your power.

Which I suppose brings me to present day.

On August 19th, the last day to gather endorsement signatures for candidacy for Huntsville Town and District Council, I sat on my driveway while posting on social media and sending personal texts to friends and allies, hoping for support. Kai got in the car and collected the ones who couldn’t come to me. And one of my very first signatories asked for a few endorsement sheets and went off into the world, coming back with six signatures, leaving with more blank pages and returning with seven more signatures! I truly could not have done this without Carrie, because at 1:30pm, I made my last stop (at Tanis’, see how we’re coming full circle?) and had a total of 32 signatures. Without Carrie’s efforts, I would have been short.

It was Nancy, however, that got me up and knocking on my neighbours’ doors. Over and over, I heard the following: “I’m so glad you’re running because we need more young women in politics.”

Kai came with me to deliver the signatures to Town Hall. I was the last potential candidate of the day. At 2pm, I was sworn in by the town clerk. I was handed a substantial package of information on how to run a campaign, the Election Act, and the many rules surrounding receiving and spending campaign funds. I left the office a little dizzy, a little excited, and feeling a lot in over my head.

In the following days, I watched a webinar on third party advertisers, read countless documents, scoured the town website, studied the current council, read past agendas and minutes, and sought advice from my loved ones about what kind of campaign I wanted to run.

Here’s where I stand:

1. My work with local women at the women’s shelter and through volunteering with several local agencies that support women has exposed the extraordinary human cost of the housing crisis and the effects of poverty in Muskoka. Eliminating homelessness and violence against women is my highest ideal and I will work tirelessly to achieve this. The housing crisis affects men as well – because we do not have a functioning men’s shelter in Huntsville right now, Muskoka Women’s Advocacy Group (the two shelters: Chrysalis in Huntsville, and Muskoka Interval House in Bracebridge) also fields calls from men looking for housing options. They call the shelter because there’s nowhere else to turn and our overburdened and under-resourced District is offering tents and spaces at Provincial Parks to homeless citizens. Yes, really.

We need more emergency housing for women, men, and families, and we need to back that up with transition and long-term housing that is affordable, attainable, and accessible. Council is well aware of this crisis and new projects have been implemented, like the Muskoka By-Name List, which people experiencing homelessness in Muskoka can have their names added to, creating a priority system. But I can tell you right now, there are hundreds of homeless or insecurely housed people in Huntsville who are not on that list. Women who cannot leave an abusive relationship because there is nowhere to go are effectively hostages, and we cannot turn away from their need. We have to be creative, compassionate, and single-minded to resolve this issue.

2. I have deep concerns about the climate crisis and biosphere degradation, so as your Councillor I will fight for our life-sustaining environment by giving science and nature a voice in development decisions. After spending more than a year watching live council sessions, I feel confident that the landlords and developers of Muskoka are well represented. I don’t feel the need to be another voice in support of relentless habitat destruction in Huntsville. People have shared their fears with me about the rampant tree-felling, destruction of natural areas, and the seeming lack of motivation to protect and preserve our natural resources. Muskoka is home to the largest collection of freshwater lakes on the planet, in a time where access to clean water is a battle that billions are fighting, including many indigenous communities in Canada. We have a solemn responsibility to protect the ecosystem that sustains us, and it’s long past time to honour that.

3. Many people, too many, in Huntsville do not trust any government, including local government. This animosity is worsening and it cannot be ignored. I have seen this in response to what they consider to be confusing political decisions, lack of transparency, motives both ulterior and blatant, and a disconnect between the people and those whose job it is to serve them. I believe in diplomacy, and I know we as a community are capable of achieving that. I want to do my part in bridging the ever-widening gap between citizens and their government. As a Councillor, I will be accessible, compassionate, dedicated, and I will prioritize using this platform to shine a light on the injustices that are making people lose hope.

I know the current council is working hard at the issues I’ve mentioned and countless more. It’s a difficult job and our Councillors care. My intention is not to deride or minimize their efforts, but to say, “I see your efforts, and I know I can help.” If you agree, please vote me for to have a seat at the table.

I will end this piece with my values. Please know that we don’t have to align on every issue in order for me to work for you – in fact, differences in opinion help us arrive more efficiently at our shared destination, because it truly takes a village. Huntsville is our home. Let’s thrive.

integrity, transparency, justice, community, & service

a photo of huntsville town council candidate kathleen may. she has brown hair and gold glasses. she looks into the camera and smiles

6 comments

  1. Kathleen, I’ve read all of this, your words are magnificent…I hear a voice of integrity and someone to be trusted…way to go lady, you’ve got my vote!
    All the best,
    Gerry

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m always learning something new with you, specially in your strong perception of life as the great warrior that you are. You look so beautiful in these pictures and so inspiring as always. ❤️️🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kathleen, thank you for sharing your incredible journey. I was looking for information about all the candidates in the upcoming election and am so glad I came across your story. It is truly inspiring and you definitely have my vote.

    Like

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