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.


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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.

Mediterranean diet could reduce your risk of Breast Cancer by 40%

We all know that eating a healthy diet can greatly improve our health. And in many cases we hear of ‘wonder-foods’ and superfoods that can boost our health and wellbeing in specific ways. But more recently researchers have started to look at diets from around the world, and the health impact on the people who eat these diets.

This huge study in the Netherlands followed 62,000 women aged 55 to 69 over a period of 20 years. The researchers found a strong link between the Mediterranean diet and reduced oestrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer.

Around 20 to 25% of all breast cancers diagnosed in New Zealand are ER negative, that’s 1200 – 1500 women diagnosed every year. According to this study, if we all followed the Mediterranean diet, 40% of those cases could be avoided.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, fruit, nuts, fish, vegetables and whole grains, and is already known to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE!

More information about eating a Meditteranean Diet HERE!

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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!

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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!

Embracing your inner sparkle!

When you know someone who has the biggest, brightest personality – for some reason you expect them to be the last one to leave your world. That’s how I felt about Helena McAlpine. So when she passed away a year ago it left a big hole in my life and my heart.

Last week http://www.stuff.co.nz asked me to write this piece on Helena to commemorate her one year anniversary. Helena lost her battle to breast cancer in September 2015 after a very long and brave fight. She will be remembered by so many people in New Zealand and the world…

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/life/84793532/remembering-helena-mcalpine-best-friend-anna-jobsz-touching-thoughts-a-year-on-from-her-death

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Kia Kaha Helena in the sky Xxx

Canadian Woman raises awareness for BRCA

Canadian woman, Laura Kelly carries the BRCA gene. After losing both her parents to cancer her odds of getting both breast cancer and ovarian cancer were extremely high. A few months ago she had a double mastectomy at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

I feel so many parallels with Laura, as though we are living almost the same life in another place.

Check our Laura’s story and her brave message here: http://www.orilliapacket.com/2016/08/25/washagos-laura-kelly-who-carries-rare-genetic-mutation-wants-testing-to-be-more-accessible

Laura’s blog here:  http://www.laurakellybrca.ca/

Laura Kelly

Information from the story:

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, most breast and ovarian cancers are not hereditary. Some women have a family history of breast cancer, but only a small number are due to an inherited gene that increases their risk of cancer.

“BRCA mutations account for about 5% of all breast cancers and 4% to 11% of all ovarian cancers,” the agency says on its website. “Genes are not the only factor that affects cancer risk, so not every woman who inherits a BRCA gene mutation will develop breast or ovarian cancer.”

Pretty In Pink #PinkRibbon

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Photo at the Generator Pink Ribbon Breaky – on my right is Evangelina from NZBCF and in the pink vest is Breast Cancer survivor and BRCA carrier – Karin Horen

Today I was invited to speak at the Generator Pink Ribbon Breakfast. They asked me to share my story about having the BRCA cancer gene and my experience having a double mastectomy.

I was excited to see a few familiar faces in the room and I felt so much warmth and support from people I’d never even met before. It’s times such as these that make me proud to be a Kiwi!

I should also note the strong presence of males in the room. These are men who are brave enough to surround themselves with pink cupcakes and hear chicks talk about boob issues. Good on you boys!

 

They kicked off by playing this video:

http://www.newshub.co.nz/tvshows/story/finding-out-your-cancer-risk-a-hard-fought-battle-2016021119#axzz49ii4L08j

It was weird watching that video back and thinking about the stage I was going through at that point. I was making decisions about my mastectomy and talking to specialists at St Marks. It’s amazing to think how far you can come in just a few months!

Yesterday I sat down to write my story and I wondered where to start? I came to the conclusion that you can only really start at the beginning. So I talked about my first experiences of Breast Cancer as a child – finding out that my mum’s best friend had Breast Cancer and going to see her for the last time. The realization that Cancer isn’t an old person’s illness and that young parents can be taken away.

I went on to talk about losing my father to stomach cancer when he was age 39, and my own mother’s journey with breast cancer. Watching her lose both of her breasts and then the lengthy struggle to stay alive – she has been inspirational to say the least.

The final part was about my own BRCA journey and my experience having a double mastectomy. There’s so much to say about that it’s hard to squeeze into one post.

This morning was tinged with bittersweet feelings. I couldn’t stop thinking about Helena and I realized walking into Generator that it’s the first time I’ve ever been there without her. If those walls could talk! So many parties including numerous breast cancer events, Birthday parties and even a singles party – all with Helena.

It was comforting to have Helena’s husband Christopher at the event today. He never ceases to amaze me with his brave face and total strength of character. Some people deal with a lot in their lives but they always manage to keep on smiling from the inside out.

Now I deserve my pink cupcake!

Kia Kaha

Anna x

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Collecting with Christopher Barton & the Helena gang in 2015

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