Eleanor Szakacs

Wish upon a Magic Castle

What does cancer look like through the eyes of a child? For some, it is a castle – a Magic Castle.

“Children really do say the darnedest things,” Eleanor Szakacs says with a laugh. Eleanor, an early childhood educator with Mothercraft, is the star of Magic Castle, a free child-care service offered to patients at Princess Margaret.

With a dress-up centre, painting easels, puzzles, books and board games, there is rarely a dull moment at Magic Castle.

Eleanor remembers a mother who received a stem cell transplant at Princess Margaret a few years ago.

“Her little boy was getting ready for his birthday and he asked his parents if he could have his party at Magic Castle,” said Eleanor. “I couldn’t help but smile – it’s reinforcement that we offer a place for children that is safe and inviting.”

Over the years, Eleanor has worn many hats for the families of Magic Castle – be it daycare provider, support system, counselor, or friend. The most difficult part of the job: the children who stop coming to Magic Castle because a parent has lost their battle with cancer.

Eleanor recalls a family that had been coming to Magic castle for almost two years – the mother terminally ill.

“One day the father came to visit me at Magic Castle – he wanted to tell me in-person that his wife had died – it was heartbreaking,” said Eleanor. “He just wanted to thank me for the support and let me know the children wouldn’t be returning to the day care.”

Eleanor describes the mothers and fathers of Magic Castle as courageous.

“They do what they have to do to manage their illness and be there for their children,” says Eleanor. “They are parents first and patients second.”

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Eleanor, a cancer survivor herself, retired from Magic Castle on Dec.31, 2012, after close to nine years of service.