Mini Nanny Agency is a proud supporter of Breast Wishes JOurney. Jo Menken is a super-mum who started this support community to inform others of the BRCA (BReast CAncer) susceptibility gene mutation, preventative measures, and procedures to raise funds for cancer research and create a supportive community.
How did your Breast Wishes JOurney begin?
I was diagnosed with the BRCA gene mutation which I inherited from my mum who had breast cancer in 2009. We didn’t find out about it until her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013. That’s when doctors became suspicious of the link between the two cancers and the BRCA gene mutation.
After Mum was tested and found to be BRCA2+ this prompted me and a few of my siblings to get tested for the same mutation.
Where does one go to get tested for BRCA? And at what age?
You can get tested with Genetic Health Queensland. I’m not sure at what age other people should get tested at.
I wouldn’t want my daughter to get tested until she’s gone through her teen years. I think the teenage years are already enough to deal with, and it should be her choice when she comes of age.
How did your friends and family react to the news of BRCA positive?
We have a family group chat, so we were already talking about getting tested before I found out. I think they were more worried about it than I was because they know I’m a sensitive person.
I just had a feeling that I had it. I knew that if I did have the BRCA gene, I would get a body cast made before having the mastectomy and put together some kind of fundraising event.
I got tested in 2014 and had the surgery in 2016. It took a long time because I went through the public health system—which I found was quite good. They also want to make sure that you’ll be able to cope with the body changes, so there were psychological tests and counselling involved.
What was it like for you to go through with the mastectomy?
I was consulting with a breast surgeon. They just wanted to get rid of the high risk of developing breast cancer and didn’t care for what I looked like after. They didn’t say that, but that’s how I felt.
Luckily, the public system also offered me to see a plastic surgeon, so I was able to see the two specialists and they worked together. I don’t think too many people know that this is available with our public health system. It does take a lot longer, but it’s there for you.
I was happy to have taken my time with the process. In the back of my mind, I thought I could always pull out of going ahead with the surgery if I wanted to. When it came to being a week out from surgery, I lost it a little bit because the realisation hit me that it was really happening.
Are you familiar with the stages of grieving? After accepting that I was going ahead with the surgery I grieved for the loss of my breasts. I was ready and calm going into the surgery, but I did a lot to prepare myself for that day—meditation, massages, journalling—just to mentally prepare.
After the surgery, I thought “that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be”—don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as bad as I had made it up to be in my mind. It’s the unknown that’s scary. I was sharing this journey from the start because it was helpful for me in getting support, but more so that others could find information for what to expect and hopefully take away some of that fear for them.
Who are some of the organisations and people who helped you start this project?
I googled “body cast Brisbane” and I connected with Paula from Serenity Body Casting who couldn’t do what I had in mind, but she connected me to a man who used to do these body casts, but no longer did them.
I thought it wasn’t going to happen, but Paula contacted me and was able to get him to help, we did the body cast the day before my surgery. Tove Langridge from TW Fine Art put his artwork on the cast and we auctioned it off at the first Breast Wishes Ball for over $1000!
What can people expect at this year’s Breast Wishes Ball on October 6th?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the Ball is a celebration of life. There will be live entertainment, live and silent auctions and raffles. There are lots of positive vibes and people coming together in support of a great cause. There are no VIP tickets because everyone’s a very important person.
How do you juggle Full-Time work, Breast Wishes Journey, and being a Full-Time mother?
I don’t know. I’m so passionate about what I do, and I do it because I love it. I love the feeling that I get from helping others. I work a lot of hours writing proposals, marketing etc outside of my full-time day job, but it doesn’t feel like extra work.
My daughter, Cam sees that what I’m doing is important to me. Now that she’s a bit older, she helps me with fundraising and it’s amazing to see her empathy towards the cause and towards me.
What do you think parents can do to teach children about breast cancer?
I have a video called “Touch Yourself” that teaches people how to self-check and familiarise with their bodies. Look for any changes like bumps and lumps and get checked out.
I think parents should become familiar with the techniques so they can teach their children to get to know their body when they think appropriate.
What’s your message to other women going through what you’ve gone through?
You are strong enough to do anything. I never thought I’d be strong enough to do any of this, but you somehow find the strength.
I always thought I was a big wuss. I was scared to even go under anaesthetic. But this proved that I’m stronger than I thought and I believe that’s the case for all of us.
Big projects on the go?
Product manufactured at the moment proceeds from sales will go to Brisbane Breast Bank.
I’ve partnered with the Newstead Brewing Co. again. We’re doing a BRCA Brew Pale Ale in the next month or so and we’ll have a launch event for it. The whole idea is to get more men involved as they can get breast cancer too. Newstead Brewing Co. has been so supportive!
Mini Nanny Agency is donating $50 from every permanent nanny placement towards the Breast Wishes JOurney ball which will go towards funding the Brisbane Breast Bank for clinical research.
Jo has also partnered with Nicole from Pro Cosmetic Tattoo who specialises in 3D nipple and areola tattoos. After a mastectomy, people have the option of nipple reconstructive surgery or leaving it bare.
Alternatively, women will opt for areola tattoos. Nicole offering one complementary tattooing session a month (with some minor requirements). If you or you know anyone interested in this generous service, reach out to Jo.