The super-human parent juggle!

Sometimes I worry that what we see on social media isnt ‘real life’. We project the best versions of ourselves and try to look like super-humans, and often-times life can be so very different. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this story with the NZ Herald.

Being a single mum with a busy career is a full and rewarding life. I have many amazing supermum moments where I high five myself. Many days I juggle PR campaigns, run my beauty business, mentor juniors, make lego rocketships with my son, fit in a yoga class, cook an awesome dinner and fall asleep after meditating. But some days my car breaks down, my son is sick, technology is fickle and my work is so piled up so high that I don’t know where to start.

So when you start loading things on top of this, like major surgeries, recovery time, and trying to take care of children on your own – things can be pretty tough.  Through this blog I have met some amazing women. Many of them facing mastectomies and major surgery and most as single parents. I hope to see more general support available for these parents, and in paticular more short term benefit options so they can get through these tough times and avoid ending up on long term benefits.


WDVJA3CLAJC6TCSLE7VYXPI5DI

Single parents struggle in the face of illness

Prominent public relations specialist Anna Jobsz is calling for agencies to offer more support to single parents who undergo major surgeries or illnesses.

Jobsz has opened up about her struggle caring for her son alone, while also recovering from two major surgeries.

After discovering she had a mutated BRCA gene, in April 2016 Jobsz opted to have a mastectomy to reduce her considerable cancer risk.

Months later she had reconstructive surgery. All the while, she cared for her 3-year-old son full time.

Her family is overseas and Jobsz could depend on friends occasionally, but Jobsz was disappointed to be told by Work and Income New Zealand her only options were to receive a long term benefit, or nothing.

“I think most single parents want to keep working despite illness, and they don’t want to get into further debt because they take three weeks off work to recover,” Jobsz said.

“When I came home from hospital I would have friends come over the first few days if they could spare an hour or three away from work, which was a big help, but the hardest part was at night.

“My son would often wake up two or three times in the night because he was unsettled after I’d been away in hospital and at that point I could barely walk and I was still on heavy meds. Getting up at night and lifting him out of his cot was difficult mentally and physically.”

anna & Carlo first day homeShe recalled five days after leaving hospital having to take her son to his own surgery to receive grommets. They were at the hospital all day. The appointment had been a long time coming and she didn’t feel she could cancel.

“I had to drive him, and get him into the hospital in his pram, upstairs in the carpark, and help him through the day while I was on heavy meds and just wanted to sleep. I had waited months for him to get on the operating schedule for grommets, and his hearing was so bad, I had to go. Those moments are truly tough.”

Following her surgeries Jobsz was readmitted to hospital after contracting infections, and at that point the hospital appointed a social worker because they could see she was struggling. The worker said a WINZ staffer would visit her to explore options, but no one showed up, Jobsz said.

After following up she said she was told to call her family, or go on a long term benefit. Dismayed to discover there is no short term option available, she’s calling on the agency to introduce one for solo parents who find themselves in her position- juggling work and a child, and extra costs including medication, childcare, and travel.

Only after her surgeries did ACC contact Jobsz to tell her what payment options she might be eligible for, and Jobsz fears that single parents who don’t think to ask, won’t receive.

She wants WINZ, ACC, and hospital staff to work together to ensure patients like her get the right support.

“I hope that together we can find a solution because with an alarming rate of breast cancer in New Zealand, especially amongst Maori women, I can imagine that many future single mothers will have to deal with this issue. How can we find a way to take care of our parents in a short term way without them ending up on long term benefits?”

A social media post where she spoke about her struggles received strong support from others, including Minister Nikki Kaye, who recently battled breast cancer.

Breast cancer survivor and breast cancer charity Paddle for Hope founder Karin Horen said the gap in support was a major issue.

Horen was first diagnosed with cancer at 26, which returned in her 40s. She has three children whom she cared for after her surgeries.

“There’s people who have no access to anything. You sit in this hospital for days and they don’t give you any idea what you’re entitled to. The problem with cancer is that it doesn’t finish with chemotherapy, or radiation, or an operation. It’s the ongoing effects that you’re dealing with.”

Breast Cancer New Zealand spokeswoman Adele Gautier said breast cancer survivors were often surprised at the financial impact on themselves and their families.

“We have a free healthcare system and getting surgery and drugs is not a problem, but the additional costs can cause a really hard time. It’s a tough situation made even tougher.”

A WINZ spokesperson said it had a range of benefits available for single parents and that what they were eligible for was dependant on individual circumstances. In emergencies assistance could also be provided for accommodation, childcare, and medical costs.

Advertisements

Pink Ribbon Breakfast @ MR TOMS

Every year NZ Breast Cancer Foundation empowers thousands of New Zealanders to take part in Pink Ribbon breakfasts. This year there were over 3000 breakfasts held in NZ during the month of May.

I held one in partnership with MR TOMS bar & restaurant in Ponsonby. They created a beautiful cooked breakfast, with goats cheese omelettes, salmon eggs bene and gorgeous pink cupcakes.

It’s important to me to support Pink Ribbon because they are the voice of the messages that help save women’s lives. And more than that, their ground breaking research will save countless lives in the future. Right now NZBCF is putting money into researching a vaccine to prevent young women developing breast cancer. That would be such a blessing for our future generations. It would stop Breast Cancer in its tracks, and hopefully eliminate the need for mastectomies.

Pink 4
Evangelina, CEO NZBCF came and said a few words. She talked about the alarming rate of women getting Breast Cancer in NZ, and the even greater risk for Maori women. I spoke about my journey with BRCA and the breast cancer in my family.

My dear friend Helena McAlpine was greatly missed. She was always the star at these events with her bold messages and insane sense of humour. Hosting these events without her feels a bit like going dancing without my high heels, but it was also a good reminder of how special she was, not just to me but to so many people in the room.

14372063_10154674155245864_6800090244848803798_o.jpg

Helena’s husband Christopher Barton joined us in saying a few quick words of support for NZ Breast Cancer Foundation and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Our brave speaker for the event was Tamzyn Adding, who was only diagnosed with cancer a year ago and has bravely fought through her mastectomy and treatment. She talked about how hard it was to tell her three children about her illness, and how scared she was on her initial diagnosis. But ultimately how hard she has fought to be alive. She is one brave woman!

(Tamzyn on the right & her sister on the left)

I thank everyone who made the effort to come to our special Pink Ribbon event… to listen, to connect and give money to this wonderful cause.

A special thanks to Essano – natural skincare products who donated a beautiful gift for every guest and prizes for the raffle. Along with the NZ Boutique Wine Festival, Tui Fleming from Dear Mummy NZ and Dani Strong from Dani Vitality Nutrition – who all kindly donated to the cause.

18644692_10155294479794603_468455436_n

All together we raised over $900 for Pink Ribbon and which was the cherry on top of an awesome event, filled with important messages.

A big thanks to Olivia Mullholland, the Marketing support at MR TOMS who so passionately helped pull this event together.

And to Mianetto Prosecco who put together the sparkling pink Mimosas for guests to drink on arrival.

For more information on breast cancer in NZ check out… NZBCF Website

To work with MR TOMS on an event MR TOMS Website

Silicone Success!

My reconstruction was completed in August 2016 by Dr Michelle Locke. I am so happy with the results, my breasts are now the size they’ve always been and they are a great shape, complete with my very own nipples. Of course I have small scars on each side of my nipples and overall they arent exactly like the real ones, but I think they are wonderful.

Growing up I watched my mums breast operations, and after so many she was left without any breasts or implants – just one big long scar. So I feel very lucky to have had this breast reconstruction through St Marks Breast Clinic.

Now that 2017 has arrived I feel like I’ve really achieved something getting through the surgeries. I’m naming 2016 as my ‘discovery year’. I discovered so much about myself through so many challenges. I’m pretty sure that makes this year my year for living!

ml2_2102   ML2_2002-w.jpg ml300492

You can read about my reconstruction here in magazine ‘The Beauty Book’:

 

Anna Jobsz is a do-it-all kind of girl with a boutique PR & Events business, series of ladies networking lunches, mineral cosmetics business and a 3 year old son.

In January this year Anna learned that she had the mutant cancer BRCA gene that significantly increased her odds of having Breast Cancer and other cancers. This busy single mum wasted no time in acting, and in April this year, at age 36, Anna underwent a double mastectomy with nipple sparing. This lifesaving procedure reduced her lifetime chance of Breast cancer from over 80% to just 1%.

Was it difficult deciding to have a Double Mastectomy?

No it was a very straight forward decision. I knew immediately that I was not comfortable with my extremely high cancer odds. With the BRCA gene from my dad’s side I had around a 60% chance of Breast Cancer but with my mum’s history of invasive Breast Cancer in both breasts – it raised my odds even higher. I wasn’t prepared to play the waiting game and inevitably end up with a life threatening cancer. I watched my dad die at 39 from a BRCA cancer and one of my best friends died last year from Breast Cancer at age 38, so I wanted to be proactive.

What was the hardest part of having a your big operation?

The single hardest thing for me was being away from my son every time I went to hospital. Not just because I missed him, but because he was too young to properly understand that I hadn’t just abandoned him. I think by the third hospital stay he was starting to understand that mummy was going somewhere to get better. Physically it was hard going, I was in a good deal of pain the first two weeks and unable to do even simple things. I had moderate to mild pain for 5 weeks after that. At no point did I regret my decision. I knew having a mastectomy would come with significant challenges and I was prepared to deal with whatever came my way. I also suffered a bad infection after my operation that put me back into hospital, it was a truly challenging time but the team at Auckland Hospital were amazing.

Tell us about your reconstruction and your cosmetic result?

After the removal of my breasts they pumped my expanders up each week with saline until I reached my pre-operation C cup size. Then you wait about 6 weeks for the skin to settle before having the reconstructive surgery to put in the silicone implants. I had an amazing team with Dr Vanessa Blair from St Marks Breast Clinic removing my breasts and Dr Michelle Lock doing all of the cosmetic surgery work. When I started this process at the beginning of the year I had no idea what my breasts would end up looking like, so to have such an amazing result has really been the silver lining on this bittersweet journey. I still have my original nipples and my size and shape is really quite incredible. I was told that BRCA operations are very tricky because they remove over 95% of the breast tissue which makes it hard to get an even result. So I’m very lucky to have such a great outcome.

What is your biggest learning from having BRCA and these procedures?

Firstly – I have had to accept that I am not always going to be in control. In the beginning I really struggled to accept the help, but once I gave in to my close friends life became much easier. They quite literally had a roster of pick ups, drop offs, sleepovers, washing, food, nursing and emotional support. I was blown away!  I’ve also learned that it’s not about ‘the right decision’ it’s about ‘your right decision’. I can’t keep trying to do what is right in life, I can only do what is right for me. That’s a biggie.

How have your surgeries affected your view on beauty?

Being beautiful isn’t just skin deep, it’s soul deep. If you feel beautiful in yourself people will feel it simply by being around you. When I first had my breasts removed it was an interesting process to go through. I had been worried pre-op that being ’breastless’ for several weeks would make me want to hide away. But it wasn’t the case at all, I felt brave! I rocked my A cup bras, it was surprisingly liberating. Now that I have my reconstruction complete I feel every bit the beautiful woman I was with my original breasts. Ultimately I think if you can’t be happy without your breasts then you have no chance of being happy with them!

Getting it done!

My journey with BRCA was a strange thing. My mission to get testing seemed to take forever and it started to feel like I might never know whether I carried the cancer gene. So when the news finally came that I had tested positive as a carrier of the BRCA2 gene, I should have been prepared, and I thought I was, but I wasn’t at all. Hearing the words from Genetics NZ left me feeling numb.

The first few days after finding out I was overwhelmed thinking about what it would mean for me and my son. It wasn’t just the worry of surgery it was also the practical things like  -how long would I need to take off work? And who would look after Carlo? And what were the risks of the operation? Would I end up with breasts and nipples?

I had so many questions, and I realized that I had been so focused on trying to get testing that I hadn’t really thought about the next steps. St Marks Breast Clinic was helpful. The first thing they did was give me a folder of reading material. I was put under the care of Vanessa Blair, an Oncologist that specializes in ‘high risk’ cases, with a special interest in BRCA. She assesed my unique situation taking into consideration my family history and BRCA2 genetics and explained that my chance of breast cancer was extremely high. The thing that most shocked me was that BRCA cancers are most likey to strike at a younger age – they are not an older persons cancer.

In April 2016 I had a bilateral mastectoy at Auckland Surgical Hospital, under the care of St Marks.

20160417_154234

 

This photo  was taken the night before my operation. My girlfriend Delia came over to help calm my nerves. I told her what was planned with the surgery, and we celebrated my breasts and all the great memories they had given me. ‘Bye Bye Boobies’ we said. And although I was certain about my decision to remove my breasts, I was also apprehensive about the surgeries and procedures to come.

 

20160418_1244451

The night before my double Mastectomy I didn’t get much sleep. Although I’m usually so calm under pressure, I wasn’t at all, it was unsettling. The morning of my operation I felt surprisingly OK. I said goodbye to Carlo and dropped him at his daycare to keep up our normal routine – then went on to Auckland Surgical Hospital.

My Plastic Surgeon Michelle Locke was very calming and ran through the procedure with me again. Dr Blair would remove my breast tissue and Dr Locke would work with her to put in my expanders (temporary pockets that get filled up with saline injections over 3 months).

20160419_083742

The operation was a success. I was under for more than 5 hours. But everything had gone as planned. The best news was that they had been able to do the nipple sparing procedure – I had kept my nipples! The first thing I said when I woke up was “I’m so glad they’re gone.” I was bruised, swollen and sore – but relieved.

It’s hard to really make the weeks that followed the operation sound great. I was very sore for the first 10 days and so frustrated not to be able to do all the things I wanted to do. It was over a week before I could make a cup of tea and even longer until I could really tuck my son into bed. But at no point did I regret the operation. I just looked forward to being fit and able again – and after two to three weeks I started to feel like myself.

20160422_080521.jpg

Only a couple of weeks after my operation I had my first expansion. The process was like something out of a sci-fi movie. Dr Locke explained I had metal ports inside the expander pockets, and started by using a magnet to find the point to inject. She used a pen to mark the exact spot. Then she injected me with a long needle that was attached with a curly tube to a syringe full of fluid. Gradually she pushed 100 mils of saline into my breast and it was like watching a balloon slowly inflate. I wish I had a picture to show you with just one side inflated – the difference was quite amazing.

IMG_20160829_214328(1).jpg

This photo was 4 weeks after my operation with 200 mils of saline in each breast, which is about an A cup. The inflation process takes approximately 3 – 4 months and during that time I kept having the inflations until I was back to my normal C cup size. The inflations feel really tight and they are generally uncomfortable. But there is light at the end of the tunnel!  Once the inflation process is complete the next operation is scheduled to have the silicones implanted.  Watch this space…

 

STORY ON STUFF:   http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/inspire-me/79422634/Mum-and-socialite-Anna-Jobsz-undergoes-double-mastectomy-for-her-son

What is BRCA?

The first time I heard about the BRCA cancer gene it was a news story on TV about Angelina Jolie. I couldn’t believe she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy, it was the first time I’d ever heard of anyone doing such a thing.

Soon after I read this story that Angelina published in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/opinion/my-medical-choice.html?_r=0

jolie_video_covestack.jpg

Little did I realize that my own BRCA cancer odds were so similar to Angelina’s.

It took me some time to get testing approved and completed through Genetics NZ – which I spoke about on One News and TV3 Story. Eventually in January this year I was confirmed to carry the BRCA2 gene.

http://www.newshub.co.nz/tvshows/story/finding-out-your-cancer-risk-a-hard-fought-battle-2016021119

One of the first websites I checked out was ‘The Gift Of Knowledge’, run by Nicola, a kiwi woman who carries the BRCA gene. There is plenty of information here about BRCA and support networks available  http://www.thegiftofknowledge.co.nz

“Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is caused by mutations in two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes were discovered in 1994-1995 (the acronym BRCA comes from BReast CAncer one or BReast CAncer two). Normally these genes act like brakes that help stop abnormal cell growth in the breasts and ovaries. However errors (called mutations) can occur in these BRCA genes, and if a woman has inherited a mutation in one of these genes she has a high chance of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Women who carry a mutation in one of these genes may have a 50-85% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and a 20-40% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer. About 1 in every 400 people in our population carries a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, and less than 5% of all breast and ovarian cancers can be explained by a BRCA mutation.”<The Gift Of Knowledge>

Also helpful was good old Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRCA1

Something I didn’t initially understand is that the BRCA gene can be passed from father to daughter. I had suspected I might have BRCA gene on my mothers side of the family, but it was actually passed to me from my father. Similarly I did not realize that men could develop  Breast Cancer. Last year my uncle (my father’s brother) had his breast removed due to Breast Cancer and was eventually confirmed to have the family BRCA2 gene.

Here is a recent story in the Washington post that relates to male BRCA gene Breast Cancer  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/05/15/why-more-men-should-be-tested-for-breast-cancer-gene-mutations/

Angelina Jolie eventually went on to have her ovaries removed to reduce her chance of Ovarian Cancer. Identifying Ovarian Cancer is very difficult and it is often recommended to BRCA carriers to have their ovaries removed by age 40.

I also found some good information on this site about what to look for if you think your family might carry the BRCA gene.

http://thebreastcentre.co.nz/breast-cancer/genetic-testing.aspx

I hope this info has been helpful, please let me know if you have any feedback or other links you’d like to post.