Acceptance is defined as the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group. It is something that everybody wants – for example, I was born with cerebral palsy and there is nothing I can do to “fix it”, but I can improve myself physically and make myself a better person. You just have to have a positive, can-do attitude.
Nova Bannatyne-Eng, 59, also has cerebral palsy. She is married and has two children, and worked for almost thirty years as a housekeeper with a child development centre in the Lower Fraser Valley. The cerebral palsy affects all her limbs but mainly impacts her balance, mobility, speech and ability to eat.
She has finished her book entitled “Just think I could’ve been normal” and wants people to have a better understanding of how cerebral palsy affects individuals. Bannatyne-Eng wrote the book to express her own experiences from a personal standpoint. “I hope people will see the sameness, wants, and needs of every individual,” she says. “People should see the potential in every individual.”
George Kruse, Nova’s cousin and a retired principal, agrees. He points out that in the book, Nova talks about being misunderstood, yet the people who were bullying her in the beginning were her friends at the end. “That’s what we want to do with society,” he says.
Kruse says that he knew his cousin since she was a child, but didn’t fully get to know her as a person till later on. She was encouraged by her Aunt Sally and friend Jack Webster to write the book, along with Kruse University English professor who reviewed the manuscript and found it very raw and poignant. Sally felt that Nova writing the book would inspire people with her courage and determination as well as that of others with disabilities.
A “can-do” attitude
School friend Lorri Taylor has been amazed by Nova’s strength, courage and can-do attitude. She uses the example of skiing as way to prove what she is capable of doing. “The accomplishment of using that rope tow to get to the top was her goal and she didn’t ever quit when she had a goal. She made it up the hill and listened to the directions about how to turn and tried to do as she was instructed. Minutes later she was heading straight down the mountain laughing so heartily with no turns and the whole crowd stopped and witnessed her first ski run – and clapped.”
Taylor says that learning to drive was another memorable moment for her friend and couldn’t imagine the learning curve she had to endure. “The radio host, Jack Webster was the first passenger she took for a ride. He is reported to have said ‘I was never so afraid in my life.’ She is an accomplished driver today.”
Despite the barriers that cerebral palsy pose for Nova, she is grateful for the people in her life who have provided her so much joy. The barriers she has broken have provided her an incredible feeling of success and exposure that she wouldn’t have enjoyed had she been born “normal”. “I think because I was integrated into society at an early age, I expected my life to be normal,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, I always knew I was disabled. But it was only when prejudice or bullying came into play that my disability was a big deal.”
Ellen Baglot, Nova’s friend and school teacher, characterizes her friend as a hard worker who was determined to do whatever the other students were doing, which was often a challenge. “We often left it open to her classmates how to solve how we could help Nova so she could take part. Whether it was a bucket half full of lead so it wouldn’t spill when she painted, or whether she was pushed around ice sitting on a wooden chair with a hockey stick in one hand, she took part.” Baglot felt that Nova could do anything. “Nova, with her winning ways, appealed to all and gave confidence to students with special needs as well as those in regular classes. She was an excellent role model.”
Bannatyne-Eng worked near the CPABC and saw the real impact the association had on families. “Our office was at the back of the CPABC,” she says. “I got a close look at the incredible work they do with families. I also worked as a housekeeper for the Lower Fraser Valley Cerebral Palsy Association [known as the Child Development Centre now] from 1985 to 2013. I have seen miracles happen there with all the therapists working with children with disabilities.”
Nova mentions that it was physically challenging to write or type – it took her over 30 years to write her book! It was completed a year ago and edited by Kruse. “I think my book makes real the difficulties of living with CP,” says Nova. Kruse believes readers of the book will develop more sensitivity and gain an understanding of what it is like to live with cerebral palsy, and as a result to accept those living with CP for who they are and ultimately be their friend.
Baglot believes the book shows what people with disabilities can do, but more than that, it gives insight into what people with disabilities want and need. “They want the same as everyone else. Despite some physical limitations, they want to be loved, respected, appreciated and needed.” She says that Nova helps others to realize that much of the solution to a happy and fulfilled life is attainable – it lies within each person.