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Helpers: She beat the odds on cancer and continues to give back

‘The most rewarding aspect of volunteering is making a difference in someone’s life’
191020_helpers-NicoleTardif
Nicole Tardif pictured here on a family adventure with her husband, David, and their daughter, Naomi, said that surviving cancer gave her a whole new perspective on what is most important. “One of the biggest lessons I learned is simply to enjoy life as much as possible every day.” (Photo)

Nicole Tardif’s career and volunteer life are closely intertwined. Her dedication to mentoring the next generation of mining professionals reflects her commitment to unleashing and developing their full potential.

Tardif grew up in Elliot Lake, renowned for decades as the uranium capital of the world before mines in the area were decommissioned in the 1990s. 

Her father, Robert, worked his entire career at Denison Mines, retiring when it closed in the mid 1990s. A stay-at-home mom when Tardif was very young, her mother, Angèle, became a school janitor once her daughter was a little older. 

“My parents were both born and raised in northern Quebec,” said Tardif. “My mom passed away in 2005. My dad still lives in Elliot Lake and his mother, my grand-maman, Annette, resides at Villa St. Gabrielle in Chelmsford. At 104 years young, she still has all her faculties. Our family is fortunate to have relatives living nearby, who have been able to keep in touch with her, especially during the pandemic.”

Tardif has two older siblings: Norm is 11 years her senior. He joined the military at 21 and served on the front lines in Bosnia and in Afghanistan as a construction engineer. He and his wife, Annie, are parents to Frédérique. Norm is now a master warrant officer with the Construction Engineering Branch of the Canadian Armed Forces in Gatineau, Que.

Joanne, Tardif’s sister, is eight years older than she. Her entire career has been with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in southern Ontario. Joanne’s husband, Paul, recently retired from a lengthy career with the MTO. They have two children, Alex and Amélie.

Tardif’s volunteer involvement began in childhood. Her commitment to the martial art of Judo started at the tender age of four. “My dad volunteered on the local Judo committee and both my parents were kept pretty busy driving me to tournaments and cheering me on in competitions.” 

By the time she was 16, Tardif had earned her black belt, making her the youngest black belt in Northern Ontario. “Judo builds confidence, respect and self-discipline, all characteristics so important in adulthood.”

As a volunteer instructor, Tardif conducted Judo classes for beginners, and really enjoyed watching the younger kids develop their self-confidence. 

“The sport really helps you grow strong, not only physically but mentally as well, and training others helped me hone my own leadership skills.”

In high school, Tardif signed up to sell daffodil pins for the Cancer Society and she was also quite adept at canvassing door-to-door for various school fundraisers. These experiences at such a young age helped her realize her potential to influence others.

“I won a school challenge for achieving the most sales. Volunteering can really help you discover your abilities and strengths.”

In 1996, Tardif enrolled in the environmental science program at Laurentian University. 

“At the time, it made the most sense for me. I’m a true nature lover. Growing up in Elliot Lake, I relished being outdoors, hiking and exploring the wilderness and parks in and around my hometown. I especially enjoyed learning and reading about the environment. I just always wanted to be a part of that world.” 

However, when Tardif discovered Laurentian’s extensive geology program, she decided that discipline could offer her a more direct path to a career that was in line with her professional goals.

Soon after earning her undergraduate geology degree in 1999, Tardif landed a position with the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. “I loved my job as a project leader.” 

But her budding career was abruptly interrupted when she was diagnosed with aggressive glassy cell carcinoma of the cervix and uterus. Tardif was given only a 15-per-cent chance of survival. A powerful blow for anyone, let alone an otherwise healthy 23-year-old. 

“Despite the odds, I survived.”

“I was blessed with unwavering moral support from my family, my employer and my professors, including Dr. Harold Gibson who so kindly helped me with my studies. My colleagues and friends showered me with words of encouragement and hope during the entire year I was away from work.”

Tardif also expressed how the support of volunteers at the Northern Cancer Centre helped her fight the disease. 

“I experienced such compassion. You knew they were volunteering from the heart and, during such a worrisome time, they comforted us while we waited to see the oncologist or undergo treatment or therapy.”

Going through a cancer diagnosis and overcoming incredible odds gave Tardif a whole new perception of reality and what is most important in our lives. “One of the biggest lessons I learned is simply to enjoy life as much as possible every day.”

About six months after returning to work, Tardif was offered a master’s degree project by Dr. Gibson at Laurentian and she eventually completed her M.Sc. She then accepted a position in the geology department at the university. It was while attending an industry conference – the 2002 annual Prospectors and Developers Association Convention – that she met her future husband, David, a Vale geologist. 

“It was love at first sight.” 

They married in 2006 and soon thereafter adopted a baby from South Africa. Their daughter, Naomi, turned 13 earlier this month.

In 2013, Tardif joined the staff at the Goodman School of Mines, where she develops and delivers unique, diverse programs that have been created to help broaden students’ horizons relative to industry careers. 

“We are expanding awareness about traditional and non-traditional disciplines related to the mining sector. As someone who values mentorship and learning, it’s a privilege to be involved in a myriad of teaching opportunities that ultimately helps improve work ethic, increases inclusion and values relationship building.”

Tardif’s long-time involvement in numerous industry initiatives is helping to change public misperceptions about mining as an archaic, unsafe sector. 

Her personal and professional goals tie closely to the volunteer life she has chosen. One organization that is important to her is Modern Mining & Technology Sudbury (MMTS). 

Tardif became a volunteer with MMTS in 2004. Established in the 1990s and originally called Sudbury Mining Week, this annual event has been popular among members of the mining community and, perhaps most significantly, among students from elementary to post-secondary school.

The week-long event was expanded and rebranded in 2011 to promote the industry’s state-of-the-art research and innovations, globally renowned environmental and safety initiatives, and progressive steps to increase diversity in the workplace.

“The main goal of our committee has always been to enlighten area youth about mining and encourage them to explore the many interesting, well-paying jobs the mining sector has to offer.” 

Ongoing ground-breaking research, the development of new technologies and an increasingly inclusive environment are generating career opportunities that appeal to the younger generation.

“There’s no better feeling than knowing your contribution and dedication as a volunteer will not only enhance your own life, but it will help the next generation of professionals to discover and pursue careers that fulfil their lives, too.”

Nicole Tardif’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom

It’s important to be a strong role model to your children. David and I belong to a group of families with children from South Africa. We advocate for inclusivity and anti-racism. It’s critical to talk openly about issues and support our kids when they encounter challenges at school. People can have unconscious biases and prejudices, and that’s when we can educate them to recognize and self-correct their behaviours. The most rewarding aspect of volunteering is making a difference in someone’s life. It warms my heart to hear from students years later – young professionals who say they now have a fulfilling career in the mining field because I guided them or they enjoyed participating in MMTS events when they were youngsters.

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and regular contributor to Sudbury.com.



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