Toronto Star

Daughter’s illness gives MP new purpose

Andrew Cash’s experience­s influenced him to submit bill to better protect workers


OTTAWA— Andrew Cash had just arrived home from Ottawa one evening, his children getting ready for bed, when he noticed his toddler looked remarkably different from the last time he had seen her. Cash, the New Democrat MP for the downtown Toronto riding of Davenport, had grown accustomed to the physical appearance of his kids changing as they grew a little older while he was away for a week on Parliament Hill.

This time was different, Cash recalled of his seeing Isabella, who turned 3 in October, sitting in the bathtub.

“She seemed swollen up, her whole body,” Cash recalls of that evening last April when the challenge facing the youngest of his four children grew from vague complaints of a sore knee to a full-blown medical crisis.

The inflammati­on in her joints grew so bad she was rendered immobile, leaving her parents — mostly his wife, Michelle Shook, a painter and potter who Cash acknowledg­ed bears the greatest burden of parenting while he is away — to carry her while they awaited a diagnosis.

“She simply just could not move. Couldn’t sit up, couldn’t stand, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t really do anything,” said Cash, adding that she was in a lot of pain, too. “She was so unhappy. It was so sad.”

The diagnosis of juvenile arthritis came in June, and with it treatments to reduce the inflammati­on and physiother­apy sessions three times a week at the Hospital for Sick Children. Cash said she was feeling better but remained incredibly weak.

Then in November, after an MRI, the diagnosis changed to dermatomyo­sitis, a rare inflammato­ry disease likely related to the autoimmune system that causes muscular weakness and a skin rash. There is no cure, although patients can go into remission.

“I’m happy to report she is feeling much better now, although she is still not out of the woods,” said Cash, ex- plaining that with a new diagnosis came new medication and its correspond­ing side effects.

The ordeal has led Cash to reflect much on the why he entered politics in the first place, which is why Cash agreed to share this personal story with the Star.

“I knock on doors in my riding all the time and I meet people who are going through all sorts of challenges. They’re going through them silently and anonymousl­y and this sort of stuff that we’re going through just really affirms for me the importance of fighting for people who need fighting for,” said Cash, who is the GTA caucus chair for the NDP.

It was another experience with childhood illness — when, as a writer and punk-rock musician, Cash was slightly more anonymous — that he believes has informed much of his work in politics.

His son Charlie, now 9, was born with osteogenes­is imperfecta, a condition also known as brittle bone disease, and for the first couple years of his life he was repeatedly breaking his leg.

At 2 years old, Charlie broke his femur so badly he ended up in a full-body cast and, with their daughter Lucy, now 7, just a baby at the time, Cash quit his freelance work in journalism and music to help out at home.

“We ended up going into debt throughout the course of this and it took me several months to get back into employment and then it took us several years to get out of the debt that we incurred through this family crisis,” said Cash, who also has a son, Sam, 23, from a previous marriage.

“It really underlined just how precarious this kind of working life is,” said Cash, who was always self-employed until he won his seat in the 2011 federal election.

“I realized that it’s not just arts and cultural workers who are freelancer­s. Fewer people are able to rely on compassion­ate leave or sick leave or Employment Insurance and one of the reasons I got into politics was to push these issues up the chain,” Cash said.

Cash introduced a private member’s bill calling for a “national urban workers strategy” in the House of Commons in October 2013, meant to provide greater protection­s and benefits for freelancer­s, part-time and contract workers, as well as unpaid interns.

Cash said the most recent illness in the family has underscore­d his resolve to, if he has to spend so much time away from his children, do his best to help them understand why.

“There are a lot of families who are just trying to get by and maybe they don’t see their parents as much as they would like to because their parents don’t have a choice,” Cash said.

 ?? STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR ?? New Democrat MP Andrew Cash with his wife, Michelle Shook, and their children: Charlie, 9, Lucy, 7, and 3-year-old Isabella, who was recently diagnosed with dermatomyo­sitis, an autoimmune condition.
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR New Democrat MP Andrew Cash with his wife, Michelle Shook, and their children: Charlie, 9, Lucy, 7, and 3-year-old Isabella, who was recently diagnosed with dermatomyo­sitis, an autoimmune condition.

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