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Woman of the Week: Dr. Vicky Sharpe

Dr. Vicky Sharpe can claim something many professional women cannot: “I basically follow my passion.”

Sharpe sits on the following boards: QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems for Tomorrow), the Alberta Energy Corporation, Carbon Management Canada Inc., and the Temporal Power Ltd. She is also a director on the board of The Capital Markets Regulatory Authority. Sharpe’s goal is to use her background in microbiology and energy to help inspire sustainable practices and encourage funding and investment in clean technologies.

“Board work, in my view, is really rewarding — if you get on the board that is right for you. I wanted to try and create more change.”

Sharpe always had a passion for the outdoors, in particular for the microorganisms that connect it all. These “tiny little simple genetic organisms” could affect so much change. They could digest oils, or remove hydrogen from the air. It was this interest that led her down an impressive and fulfilling career path in sustainability and finance.

She began her career studying science in Bath, U.K. and took her PhD in microbiology, or more specifically surface chemistry as applied to water pollution, at Trent University in Nottingham. She originally moved to Canada because there were more opportunities for women in her field.

“It’s a male-dominated system. In the U.K., I took a higher degree, a PhD, because I knew if I wanted to compete with the men, I had to be more qualified. People forget how hard women worked at that time to be treated equally,” she says. “There were more opportunities for women [in Canada]. It’s more receptive.”

Sharpe began her illustrious career as VP of Ontario Hydro International Inc. She was responsible for a community-based conservation program that helped retrofit homes, commercial buildings, shopping centres, and hotels in a small town with energy efficient technologies. The idea was for Hydro to become as utility energy efficient as possible. “There was a 90 per cent uptake in people taking at least one product that would be beneficial,” she says. “That was the highest level of adoption by society of energy efficiency.”

While at Ontario Hydro, Sharpe was involved with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). She would travel to schools and talk with kids between the ages of five and eight about careers in science and technology. She also informally mentors women and helps connect them to other decision-makers. “I actually have taken some heavy hits working to support employment equity,” she says. “At the time there was a lot of negativity about that [but] I integrate it into my life. I give them advice.  We all need help. I had great people who help me.”

One of Sharpe’s other big accomplishments is the founding of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), an organization she helped run as CEO for 13 years. She describes the SDTC as an “unusual organization” that was created through an act of parliament as a response to the Canadian Climate Change Commitment in the late 1990s. Through this organization, she helped find and negotiate agreements with clean technology companies and start-ups. In total, she mobilized over $5 billion for clean tech companies in Canada.

“It’s so exciting to see these great Canadian companies growing and building, but now – I asked for this in 2006 — we need to get more capital to scale up these companies if we want to be world leading. We are still struggling with that. Investors tend to go with what they are used to.”

Throughout her experience and studies, Sharpe never had any formal training in terms of finances — yet now, she is one of the leading negotiators in the field. “I found I spend a large chunk of my life chasing money for these companies,” she says. “I just learnt it. If you are trying to persuade businesses to be more sustainable, they are designed to optimize financial returns. So if you are presenting opportunities, you have to take that into account.”

Sharpe has a variety of experience, but there is one commonality that drives her.  “I have to do something that does an impact,” she says.  She won the Purvis Memorial Award in 2016, which is given to those who have made a major contribution to development and strategies in Canadian industry or academia in the field of chemistry.

In the little free time she has, Sharpe does a lot of travelling. Sometimes it is to visit family in the U.K., and other times it’s to better understand a global issue or to use her skills as an amateur wildlife photographer. Travelling and reading helps her reconnect with her love of nature and the environment, and revitalizes her passion for the topic.

“Climate change is in the background and it’s a critical thing to deal with. It’s a threat. I … promote a better understanding of what this is and what it means to people’s lives, both business and personal, and try to influence it for the better because as a society. I don’t think we’ve embraced the positive angles of sustainability,” she says.

“But, when you want people to do stuff, you have to be able to help them do it. There are great Canadian technologies for those who want to build sustainability. They are carrying the torch.”

My hysterectomy story — Part 4 in a 4 part blog series

I spent one week in a fog of depression. If anyone else has been through it, you’ll know that being alone after surgery can be defeating.

I had been venting to my ex, who had patiently listened to me whine about feeling alone and wondering why my friends didn’t dote on me as I had expected. There were no cards, no offerings of soup and not even cheap flowers from the corner store. Weren’t people supposed to bring you something when you are sick, I asked.

His answer was simple. “You’re not doing yourself any favours by thinking this. Just be glad that they visited.”

At first I was a little annoyed. Visiting was routine. We went out for lunch on a regular day. How could that make me feel special?

But as the words absorbed in my mind, their strength resonated.  Was I building up disappointment in my own mind?

I had truly expected to be pampered while I was sick. I was looking for acknowledgement that yes, I had lost a part of my body that is the key to all life. Wasn’t I supposed to expect attention?

But then I realized something – I don’t need attention. I never have.

I was losing sight of who I was – the strong, independent woman who relies on no one, but who is strong enough to lend a hand when others need support. And now I had allowed myself to become weak. A victim of a simple procedure that rendered me healthier and yet I was crying about a host of unmet expectations, built by myself. I was drifting through unhappiness created by me.

Suddenly, the fog lifted and I could see myself again. Was I still disappointed? Yes, I will always feel a little twang of sadness when I look back on this situation. A sappy card would have given me that little bit of bliss that I needed.

So now I know better. When someone is ill, or in a state of recovery,  I will show up with a token of thought on my way to visit. Because I have always chosen to live by these words: always treat others the way you want to be treated, even if they don’t.

I’m better now. Still strong and still independent. But wiser.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 3 in a 4 part blog series

I’m a fast healer. Two days after having a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy, I was driving. Walking was possible but I tired easily and I could only walk very slowly.

I had no pain to speak of. I took a prescribed anti-inflammatory but no pain killers. I had some cramping in my stomach and the tiny cuts were a little sore, but I was not in pain.

Four days after the procedure, I went shopping. I bought shoes and two belts that went around my slim waist and hips wonderfully. I felt great.

But I cried a lot. I was lonely. I had lots of well wishes before the surgery. Lots of emails and calls and offers to help if I needed help. And really, these emails and offers got me through the actual procedure so they were not in vain.

After the surgery, I waited. But truthfully, people are busy. Their lives go on and although the offers are given with sincerity, the actions don’t always follow suit.

I longed for a gaggle of girlfriends to come over on their own accord, make me tea and talk about the loss of my uterus. I wanted chat about what I was feeling and have some much needed girl bonding time.  But I suppose having a group of girlfriends show up with Entenmann’s lemon strudel  is simply just part of a script from an old Sex and The City episode and not reality.

I received text messages, and a couple of phone calls with more offers. But I wasn’t sure how I could really call someone and say, “Can you visit me today?”

Few visits eventually came, some sadly with a feeling of obligation in the air….and I played the good hostess. The cancellations were difficult. It made me realize that sometimes it’s better not to tell anyone in advance, so when they don’t make an effort, it’s because they didn’t know. And there are no let-downs.

Ironically, my ex came through for me.  It was a surprise since we hadn’t talked in a while, but he remembered the surgery. He offered the help and he visited, helped me, and fed me.

Tylenol 3 can help with the physical pain. Naproxen, which I actually took, helped with the physical inflammation. A smile from someone who makes you a cup of tea and sits with you while you are at your most vulnerable is the medicine that strengthens your heart…and once the main part of your body is strong, the rest can heal.

My theory is that my body heals itself quickly out of necessity. It knows that I’m an independent person who must rely on herself, so it supports me in that way.  Fast tracks my recovery so I can get up and start living again. And in many ways, this is good.

My ex, well, that was a bonus. Who knew? Why he’s my ex, you ask. Well that’s a story for another day.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 2 in a 4 part blog series

Surgery was a success. Dr. Grace Liu performed a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy at Sunnybrook last Tuesday.

I remember being in the operating room and Dr. Liu chatting with me as she held something over my mouth and nose. Then I vaguely remember waking up and asking, “Did she do it laparoscopically?” and touching my belly. The answer given from who I suspect was a nurse, was “Yes.”

The next memory was of being in bed with a nurse asking me a ton of questions and I finally got annoyed and gave up answering. I remember thinking, Why is she asking me so many questions? I can’t even speak…

Five residents came to visit me and asked me the same question asked by the nurses who looked after me for the 30 hours I was in the hospital. “How is your pain?” I was confused. “I have no pain,” I kept answering.

Truthfully, there was no pain. Discomfort in my stomach area when I moved and some cramping, but nothing I would call pain. Perhaps the years of dealing with extreme cramps that would be considered pain to the average person without my condition had made me immune.

When Dr. Liu came to see me the day after surgery, she looked stunned. “Look at you!” she said. “You have colour in your face!”

I thanked her and she shrugged it off. And I thought to myself – such a skilled surgeon who took out an enormous growth of fibroids from my uterus without having to cut me open. It was a procedure I was told was impossible from other medical sources. Her modesty and wonderful bedside manner made the entire experience almost welcoming – as much as surgery can be.

My recovery was not about physical pain but emotional pain. That’s my next blog.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

My hysterectomy story — Part 1 in a 4 part blog series

It’s been a while since I posted. I spent a year and a half working on myself and my career and then I was in a place where I could make a long awaited decision. I have decided to have a partial hysterectomy.

I’m blogging about it because it’s a women’s issue and I wanted to share my experiences with other women who may be in a similar situation.

Fifteen years ago, irregular periods, hot flashes (yes, at 30!) and unbearable cramps led me to a specialist where it was determined that I had fibroids. They’re common, I was told. Just leave them alone and if they grow too large, then I’d eventually have to remove the uterus.

I was young and decided I could live with the symptoms because I wanted to keep the chance of having a child.

But the years passed, and the fibroids grew. I dreaded the week every month. The cramps lessened but the flow increased and for three of the days, I was incoherent. I was exhausted and even the simplest tasks took longer than usual. Last year, I knew it was time to make the decision.

Although I don’t have children and after next week, the option to give birth will be gone forever, I haven’t given up the privilege of becoming a mother.

All of my lives I have believed that being a mother to a child doesn’t necessarily mean giving birth. It means loving and caring and mentoring, helping one to grow. There are many children without a home in this world, and if I’m meant to be a mother, I will adopt.

So next week, I will be in the hands of a skilled surgeon who specializes in non-evasive operations. She will go into my uterus through three tiny incisions in my abdomen where a morcellator will dice up the fibroids so they can be removed through the incisions. There is a 30% chance that this procedure may not work, and only then will she opt for a bikini cut.

Am I scared? Yes.

In about nine days I may be able to blog again and let you know how it goes.

Keep reading….

 

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4