Author

CLAIRE ARMSTRONG

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This is a story about lost love, grief and the strength of one mother to keep going on after losing her husband the the father of her kids in a sudden and fatal accident.

On Saturday 25 June 2011, Graham Santich kissed his wife and two young children goodbye and left for work. He never returned home. A tragic accident on Perth’s Mitchell Freeway left a family shattered and struggling to find a new sense of normal without him.

The Santich family were in a state of bliss with their tenth wedding anniversary celebrations quickly followed by the birth of their second child Darcy, a much loved brother for three year old Charlotte. Sadly, their time together as a family of four was to be brief. Just eight weeks.

Michelle, still recovering from the caesarean delivery, vividly remembers the phone call from police telling her Graham had been in a car accident and how her world stopped in an instant.

“I have thought back many times to things that happened that day,” she recalls. “I was at the shops with the two kids when the police called and told me Graham had been in an accident and I needed to get somebody to drive me to Royal Perth Hospital as soon as I could. All I could think was that he was not going to make it and had horrific images going through my mind of what he might look like when I finally got to him.”

Her parents rallied to her aid, and soon they were met by uniformed police at the emergency department doors and led to a small conference room.

He was perfect. His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“It was then that I really knew,” she says. “I knew he was gone and the police confirmed my worst fear.”

Reliving the events, Michelle recalls seeing Graham for the first time after what seemed liked an eternity, on a hospital bed, in a hospital gown, with not a scratch on him.

He was perfect,” she says. “His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“I am grateful he looked the way he did but it was also very confusing, because what was in front of me didn’t match the images in my head.”

The details surrounding Graham’s death quickly raised more questions than answers. Police explained their suspicions that Graham had passed out while driving. It was a relatively minor accident, with minimal damage to the car. He became a case for the Coroner. And so began the long wait for answers.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

In the weeks after the accident, as Michelle and her family struggled to come to terms with their loss, DonateLife offered counselling and information packs which included Bunnings vouchers to purchase a tree to grow in his memory. Michelle now utilises the free counselling service, which also provides some counselling to young Charlotte, and attends support groups.

Michelle describes one of the things that plays constantly on her mind is the memories the children will have of Graham and how the organ donation services have offered them ways to make special connections to him, including adding his name to a memorial wall at Lake Monger honouring all Western Australians that have made the ultimate gift and donated their tissues and organs.

“Since Graham passed we have always told Charlotte that her daddy is magic and lives amongst the stars,” she says. “So when DonateLife adopted a star for WA Donors, it gave us a place to send our goodnight wishes. Charlotte is always so eager to see if her daddy’s star will be the first one out.”

“As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal.”

“For me, putting his name on the wall and having the coordinates to a star gives us more connections to him, more than just our memories. The kids will always know their daddy was someone special and did something wonderful. It gives us places to go and prompts us to tell stories about him.”

But it is the lack of personal memories the children will have that causes Michelle angst, in particular that Darcy will never have memories of his own and eventually Charlotte’s will fade.

“While family and friends will tell stories and teach Darcy about his dad, the difference will always be that Charlotte will have three years worth of photos with him, while Darcy has very few,” she says.

“I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him.

“I hope Darcy will develop a strong connection with Graham through our family, our love and our memories. I know that Charlotte will always feel close to him, she was his little girl and they thought the world of each other.”

Michelle has tried hard to establish traditions in his memory such as taking the kids to the beach and collecting shells on Graham’s birthday, something he loved to do with Charlotte. On his anniversary there is the Crackerjack Cup lawn bowls tournament at the Fremantle Bowls Club, the place of his wake and where he spent many hours as a keen player.

Meanwhile, balloons and rainbows have become symbolic with balloons often released in his memory and rainbows bridging a connection to his unforgettable grin.

“Any chance I can get to keep remembering him, I do it. I want to feel like he is still part of our family and to include him in our lives even if though he isn’t here,” she says.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

Listening to Michelle describe how she is learning to live with only half a heart without her soul mate, it is obvious the love and adoration this couple shared. Michelle describes Graham as loyal and loved by many.

“He was one of those people who made friends wherever he went,” she explains. “He always had time for his family and was passionate about sport and music of all genres, and he was exceptionally dedicated to his landscaping business. But above all he was thrilled to be a dad, uncle and godfather and was always full of life when he was with the kids.”

Michelle recalls how she often had to pull the reins to get him to hurry along putting Charlotte to bed after numerous songs, books and giggling, and how at birthday parties he was termed King of the Kids, usually swamped by a pile of ankle bitters vying for his attention. But for Graham, it was never a chore. He saw it as a privilege and revelled in it.

“As much as I still expect him to walk through the door each night after work and sometimes still pick up my phone to send him a text, I have settled into this new life and it is hard to accept, especially because it is starting to feel normal without him. As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal,” she says with a heavy heart.

An answer to his death finally came almost five months after the accident. The Coroners Court ruled that Graham died from choking. Michelle still finds it incredibly hard to accept this simple answer.

She, like many others, suspected the Used car, which he had owned just two days, had played a part in his passing. But other than perhaps isolating him from vital assistance, three independent mechanics ruled the car played no role.

“I have had lots of appointments with police, DonateLife and even the Coroners Court to try deal with my ongoing confusion about how he died,” she says. “I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him. More recently I have struggled with the terminology used to represent his cause of death.”

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers.

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers. She explains there have been donations to a trust fund for the children, grocery shopping and cooked meals, Graham’s business suppliers wiping their bills, his favourite football team signing a card and the drummer of one of his favourite bands visiting and having a mini jam session with Charlotte, and everything in between.

“I know people often didn’t know what to say or do but somehow they got the balance right. And clearly the willingness to help me and the kids is a testament to the person Graham was and the influence he left on the world,” she says.

And so the saying goes, and never rings more true than here, if love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

 

For more information on becoming an organ donor with DonateLife visit www.donatelife.gov.au

More than ever before the modern world is experiencing uncertainty and change. As a result, many of our boys are struggling. But what impact is this having on the men they will become? Claire Armstrong chats to renowned child focused educator Maggie Dent on how to raise remarkable men in a modern world.

It was an emotional Maggie Dent that spoke in awe of her latest book, Mothering Our Boys; A guide for mums of sons. This is the book she believes she was put on this earth to write and carries her heart and soul. And even with her long list of credentials in the parenting realm, Maggie feels the pressure of how audiences will respond. But as sales climb beyond 10,000 in the first few weeks, it is clear this book resonates with today’s parents.

At her core, Maggie is a mum, a self-claimed, imperfect mum, to four wonderful boys.

Maggie with her sons

“I openly claim I was an imperfect parent, but I always had an intuitive sense my boys needed freedom and times and places without my direction or input,” she says.

“Allowing my boys to take risks, fail and recover, was not easy but it greatly helped build confidence, courage and gave my boys incredible resilience.”

Maggie speaks of modern lifestyles, full of game consoles, social media and an education system so focused on academic results, diminishing the freedom to just “be kids” and providing fewer opportunities for unstructured play, as having a major consequence on our boys’ development.

“We have spent so much time trying to safely guide our children and prevent bad things from happening to them that we are dissolving their ability to judge risk for themselves which ironically sets them up for disaster.”

Today’s boys are struggling.

They are more likely than girls to go to prison, be illiterate, die young, be in remedial classes, have ADHD and more. And we are also seeing poor examples of masculinity in our society via the news and social media.

So how do we show our boys what healthy masculinity looks like and raise men capable of being able to hold their hearts open in relationships?

“The big message in my book is other women can positively influence other people’s sons. Boys observe all humans and learn from everyone around them so it’s important we are all that warm, gentle presence in young boy’s lives.”

Maggie lets Offspring in on a few secrets. A couple of little secrets about raising boys.

“A big secret is play,” Maggie quips.

Could it really be that simple? Maggie explains the real secret to raising boys into happy, well rounded young men, is to let them play and allowing them the chance to make mistakes, get dirty and occasionally get hurt.

Playing together also teaches kids how to behave socially around winning and losing, an experience far more valuable than playing games on screen, which show no emotional response from competitors.

“The play code developed from playing with other children is fundamental for boys to negotiate conflict in adult life,” Maggie says.

She suggests games with only one winner. When they lose, they’ll get better at learning to deal with it. Play is also how we learn to wait, to take turns and develop the art of strategy.

Most boys struggle emotionally due to the inner conflict between hormones, brain chemicals, slower and poorer verbal and emotional processing and social conditioning for boys to appear powerful and successful.

There is a mistaken perception that boys and men don’t feel emotions as much as girls and women — here is another secret – they do. They just process and communicate them very differently.

“Boys need more time to work out what big feelings are all about, whereas girls tend to move from experiencing the emotion to interpreting it much quicker,” Maggie explains.

“When boys feel emotionally vulnerable, they tend to have a default setting straight through to anger, which is often not acceptable in everyday settings.”

Traditionally, boys have been told to toughen up when faced with adversity. Maggie dispels this saying a more nurturing approach is far more helpful for boy’s development.

“All children need to know they are valued and loved. But we need to meet the unique needs of boys. They want close one-on-one chats, but they don’t want them straight after school when they haven’t had time to process it yet.”

Another secret many mums of boys will have already learnt is that non-verbal cues are a primary form of communication. To feel loved many boys just need to know you are “present” to them.

It sounds easy, but in reality, parents are busy people. But Maggie urges anyone with boys to acknowledge that moments of non-verbal connection are incredibly valuable.

With Christmas coming, Maggie reminds parents that boys don’t need the latest fancy toys, instead the best gift would be using the holiday to spend time together playing and making magical memories. It’s about presence not presents.

Some tips on communicating with boys:
• Boys respond to non-verbal connections. Wink, make funny faces, give high fives and thumbs up.
• It’s about presence. Join them in their chosen activity. Watch their favourite show or build Lego together.
• Engage in spontaneous hugs, cuddles and tickles. Launch a ‘surprise bedroom tickle attack’ (for older children!)
• Let them know you think about them when you are apart. Hide notes or jokes in their lunch box or on the bathroom mirror.
• Make eye contact and ensure they are listening before you start talking. Keep verbal instructions short.
• Give choices and ask, rather than demand.
• Help boys with emotional coaching. Teach calming strategies and model quiet times especially with big feelings.
• Create a bedtime ritual. The last thing your son should hear every night before entering the land of nod is how much you love them.
“I always told my boys, ‘I love you more than all the grains of sand on every beach, more than all the stars in the night sky and more than all the hairs on all the bears’ and even now they still remember it.”

 

The Performing Arts is a transformative experience essential to a child’s wellbeing and development. Whether it’s drama, music or dance, we’ve got you covered with the best professional programs and stay-at-home fun!

Extracurricular activities fill up the calendars of most school aged children these days. However, sport is usually the dominant feature over more creative pursuits. But did you know engaging in the Performing Arts, whether it be dance, drama or music has phenomenal benefits for kids’ wellbeing and development?

 

If your child is shy and lacks confidence, introducing them to Performing Arts could be a life changing decision. The combination of a safe environment and engaging activities could be the trigger to bring them out of their shell.

Performing Arts have the ability to provide kids with a wide variety of skills to set them up for life. It’s not about becoming a star or getting the leading role, it’s about stimulating the body and mind and the vast emotional, social and educational paybacks.

Being a part of a performance process, exposes your child to new ways of thinking, moving, engaging and doing. Research shows that children who sing, dance, act or play instruments are more likely to be recognised for academic achievement compared with their non-performing counterparts.

It’s not about becoming a star or getting the leading role, it’s about stimulating the body and mind and the vast emotional, social and educational paybacks.

But the benefits don’t end there. Here are some of the key rewards children receive from participating in Performing Arts:

1. Self-esteem and Confidence

The safe environment of a class, as well as the opportunity to perform in front of an audience, will help bolster your child’s confidence and self-esteem. Children will make mistakes, we all do, but they will have the chance to practice and learn, and eventually succeed at a given task, generating immense feelings of pride, which can have a flow on effect to reducing anxiety and depression.

2. Social Skills

Most creative activities require teamwork or some collaboration. This expands children’s skills in communication, conflict resolution, negotiation and empathy. By learning collaboration kids begin to see that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role. Through team work kids can learn to see things from different perspectives and understand the motivations, feelings and opinions of others.

3. Perseverance and Resilience

Learning an instrument or dance requires practice, patience and persistence. On the journey to success children learn the old anecdote ‘the show must go on’ when things don’t come together perfectly, and they may be required to accept constructive feedback, which will prove a vital skill in later life. Once the performance is complete the sense of accomplishment will drive perseverance in their next endeavour.

4. Concentration and Control

The ability to listen, retain and contribute in a creative class demands a great deal of focus. Equally the core strength, coordination, flexibility and balance required across all performing art forms such as sitting with an instrument for extended periods or executing ballet are all skills that will help enormously when transferred to a school setting.

But Performing Arts aren’t limited to music lessons and dance studios. Perth’s Fringe World Festival Director, Amber Hasler, says we just have to look at the expanding programs and performances drawing huge crowds to the 750 events that made up this year’s Fringe World, with genres from comedy to circus and cabaret acts to realise the endless options and opportunities available in today’s performing art scene.

“Events like Fringe get people out of their houses and interested in the arts in general,” she says. The annual program is a month-long celebration of talented artists including film makers, circus acts, puppetry, mermaids, magic, illusion, comedy, dance, musicals. It really is a joy to bring culture and an array of art forms to the public and open up their perception and appreciation.”

With so many possibilities and endless benefits it can be a daunting task finding the right activity for your child. Offspring has put together a guide to help you navigate the options.

A dance class will introduce children to the notion of a troupe. It is a great way to increase connectivity with others.

Dance

 

Dance is an expressive art form. It is active and a great way to improve fitness, body awareness, motor skills, strength, posture and flexibility. Dancing has recognised social and psychological advantages to a child’s development from problem solving and critical thinking to developing resilience and team work. For many dancers, the activity provides an outlet for emotions, stresses and an escape from daily life.

A dance class will introduce children to the notion of a troupe. It’s not just you on stage but a larger group that is counting on you to do your part. The sense of responsibility and relying on peers gives an incredible sense of belonging. Most often dancers bond tightly together to develop a strong friendship set within their dance school. It is a great way to increase connectivity with others.

Many dance schools offer classes from toddlers to adults. Dance classes focused on enjoyment and movement are perfect for little ones looking to burn off some energy. Lots of dance schools, recreation centres, day care centres, churches and community groups offer specific toddler classes where technique, routines and costumes are not so important.

For older children looking for more structure and the opportunity to become involved in competitions, exams or concerts, there are many styles from which to choose including Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Contemporary, Acrobatics, Cheerleading and Hip Hop. Talk to your child about their interests, ask around for recommendations, visit a few studios and ask about trial classes.

Drama

Drama puts children in exciting, funny, thought-provoking and interesting circumstances to expand their view of the world and the people within it. It is not just limited to stage shows but encompasses circus acts, illusions, puppetry and theatre sports.

“Not every child that takes drama will become a famous actor, but they will walk away with the tools to speak in public and speak up for themselves. They don’t have to be the best, they just have to be involved,” Bronwyn Edinger, Director of Northern Sydney’s Glen Street Theatre told Offspring.

Drama classes cover many skills including voice training, improvisation, role playing and creative movement. Drama, like dance, is suitable to a range of ages and abilities from three years through to adults. Many primary and high schools offer a drama program and some local youth centres provide opportunities to be involved in regular theatrical productions. Otherwise, ask around for recommendations of a good drama club.

Bring the benefits of drama into your home:

1. Set up a box of dress-ups and props to help children create imaginative scenarios, include a large sheet to use as the stage curtain.

2. Create your very own sock puppets. Puppets are a great way for shy kids to engage.

3. Instead of simply reading a story with your child, why not role play and act it out?

Music

Music is a powerful form of expression. It has the ability to change moods and evoke emotional responses simply through sound. Your child doesn’t have to be a prodigy musician to get involved either, signing up for a choir or a band is a great place to start as it removes the pressure associated with solo instruction and performances.Most schools will have a choir your child can freely join.

One of Australia’s most admired conductors, receiving an Order of Australia for his passionate advocacy of music education Richard Gill, believes physical education and arts education should book-end the Australian curriculum, with music being at the forefront, as early as possible in the life of a child.

“The impact this type of education would have on children,with respect to creative thinking, imaginative problem solving, resulting in classrooms full of engaged and interested minds with the capacity to think, perceive, analyse and act upon ideas, would turn the educational decline on its head,” he said during a recent speech to the Collegiate of Specialist Music Educators.

You don’t need to be a wonderful singer or musician to share music with a child, nor spend a lot of money on musical activities, with many local libraries or community groups offering free ‘rhyme time’ sessions to introduce babies and toddlers to rhymes, songs and instruments.

For older children, learning an instrument can teach perseverance, build self-esteem and assist with other school-based education such as reading and maths from learning to read music and count beats.

Your child’s school might teach certain instruments or offer a music program. Otherwise word-of-mouth is always a great way to start looking for a teacher. If you are seeking private tuition check the qualifications of the teachers and find out costs, expectations and ensure they match your child’s desires, some will be more casual and others will expect participation in examinations and recitals. Ask about hiring instruments before committing, as some instruments are expensive and need a lot of practice and persistence.

So How Do You Choose the Right Instrument?

Choosing an instrument to learn can be exciting and full of possibilities. Talk to your child about their interests and visit a reputable music store to see the instruments in their grandeur. Most formal music lessons start between five to nine years old, group classes are recommended for even younger children. The Forte School of Music gives these ages and instruments as a guide:

Piano is highly recommended as a child’s first instrument, it can be played as soon as a child can reach the keys and has enough strength to press them down.
Recommended age: 5+

 Recorder is a common choice in a school setting. It is cheap, children can play it easily and it provides a good introduction to making music.
Recommended age: 5+

Stringed instruments often come in smaller sizes specifically for kids. Some children can handle a violin from the age of four.
Recommended age: 5+ (violin); 9+ (viola and cello)

Wind and brass instruments should not be attempted before your child’s permanent teeth come in because of the pressure on the teeth when they are played, the actual size of the instrument, the lip strength required and the “puff” needed to make a noise.
Recommended age: 8+ (flute, clarinet); 9+ (saxophone, trumpet, trombone, French horn)

✪ Drum and guitars tend to be a big favourite among kids.
Recommended age: 7+

Singing is something that can be enjoyed at all ages, but it is best not to start learning formally until 9+ years.

Bring your own music to life:

1. Have the radio or music stream playing during the day instead of the TV. It will encourage you and your child to sing and dance along.

2. Construct your own musical instruments such as shakers, drums and cymbals from pots and pans, household and craft item.

Not Keen on the Spotlight?

If your child is shy and lacks confidence introducing them to Performing Arts could be a life changing decision. The combination of a safe environment and engaging activities could be the trigger to bring them out of their shell. But don’t push too hard, there are other ways to expose your child to the wonders of the art form without participating:

✪ A trip to the circus – there is nothing quite as awe inspiring as aerial acrobatics.

✪ A dance performance – seeing classical ballet at the theatre or a local dance school’s concert is a lively and colourful experience.

✪ A balloon twisting, puppet or magic show – the illusions will captivate your child’s imagination and open them to the possibilities within Performing Arts. Activities like these are easy to create at home.

Tips to help your child overcome anxiety before a big performance:

Normalise feelings of anxiety and remind your child, everyone, even adults feel nervous before going on stage.

Talk your child through their worries and remind them of other moments when they felt anxious and things ended up being successful.

✪ Help your child calm their nerves by taking four or five long, deep breaths or counting backward from ten.

✪ A concert – there are many touring music acts for kids, teens or adults to provide a great shared experience.

✪ Local community events – whether it is the local choir or dance troupe, carolling, a drama production or an idol contest, there are often opportunities to see an array of performances in your own community.

Janine Allis, founder of retail giant Boost Juice, chats with Claire Armstrong about how the simple idea of selling juices and smoothies grew through sheer grit and determination from her kitchen table to an international empire. But the down to earth mother of four’s path to entrepreneurial success has been far from ordinary.

Trying to lock in a time to interview Janine Allis, it is plainly clear her life remains a whirlwind of commitments, despite her repeated insistence she has discovered the elusive work-life balance. But when your history is logging 17-hour work days anything less could easily be considered blissful.

Fresh from interstate travel for the filming of Channel Ten’s latest reality hit Shark Tank, Janine breezily declares her investor role on the prime time show kept her interstate for ‘only three weeks’ and with a visit from her daughter and husband and the opportunity to connect with her sister, it was almost like a holiday.

Janine is no stranger to travel. An adventurer at heart, she has an unwavering nerve to try and explore anything life throws at her. The self-proclaimed ‘Miss Average’ student never finished high school and never attended university a day in her life, instead setting her sights on exploring the world, complete with cliché blue backpack. She left behind her suburban Knoxfield family home in Victoria in the 1980s after telling her mum she would be home in three months (she came back six years later).

“Life took me on a journey in those years, there was no planning and I left home very naive about the world and people, but my travels taught me so many life skills whether that be problem-solving, conflict management or emotional intelligence,” she says reminiscently.

Janine – who is currently ranked at number 24 on the BRW Rich Women List – is proof there is no conventional path to commercial success (and even if there were she probably would have hiked around it).

From a junior role in an advertising agency, to becoming the house model for sports brand Adidas, an aerobics instructor, door wench at night clubs, a camp counsellor in the USA, a nanny in France, selling time share in the Canary Islands to working on David Bowie’s opulent yacht in the south of France, Janine’s younger years meandering through an eclectic mix of jobs taught her more about the business world than any classroom.

 

“I have always been a great believer in the idea that children should be in your life, not you in their’s, and they will have a richer life because of it. This is how I resolve the guilt that comes from being a working mum.”

“Anything you do in life can give you skills for business,” she reveals. “I believe people need to have a life full of experiences to find out what they’re really passionate about.”

Janine’s first zealous awakening was Motherhood.
At 27, she returned home from abroad with a two-year-old son Samuel in tow, feeling like a failure for mistakes and misjudgements that left her financially and emotionally downtrodden. But rather than sink in self pity, Janine set a steely focus on finding a career to support herself and her young son.

Janine’s fun-loving spirit, headstrong determination and inquisitive nature often lead her to say ‘yes’ to opportunities as they presented, and landed her a role with Village Roadshow in Melbourne, which spring-boarded her to Singapore, only to return to Melbourne as a publicist with United International Pictures (all this despite no experience in management or public relations).

Her quintessential Aussie give-it-a-go approach to life also lead her to meeting and marrying the man of her dreams, Jeff Allis, who at the time was head of programming at Austereo, Australia’s biggest radio network.

Janine candidly explains the fast-paced romance, moving in together six weeks after their first date, engaged after four months, married after eight months and expecting their first baby, Oliver, after 12 months.

Janine – who is currently ranked at number 24 on the BRW Rich Women List – is proof there is no conventional path to commercial success (and even if there were she probably would have hiked around it).

“We are complete opposites,” she laughs. “But we respect each other’s abilities and when it comes to our expertise his weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are his strengths; we complement each other perfectly and are a great example of when you get the right team together anything can happen.”

Just nine months after the birth of Oliver, the couple discovered they were expecting another bouncing bundle, son Riley, pivoting their ambitions on taking control of their destinies. A dabble in publishing and touring comedians failed to get the juices flowing – until the concept of bringing juice bars to Australia was presented.

 

The self-proclaimed ‘Miss Average’ student never finished high school and never attended university.

The revolutionary idea was sparked after the notable success of the juice and smoothie industry in the United States. As a mum of active kids and a bit of a health nut, Janine saw the Aussie market was seriously lacking healthy fast food options despite the warm climate and health conscious outdoorsy lifestyle. Fresh juice bars were something she knew she could get excited about.

“I wanted to give my kids something quick and healthy when we were out and about but there was only fatty, sugary, empty calories as far as the eye could see,” she says.

Janine and Jeff trialled the juice concept with several business partners, throwing open the doors to Sejuice on Chapel Street in Melbourne. But lacking internal support and respect the experience quickly soured and a lesson in the hardships of working in an unsupportive team was realised. In true Janine style this failure only spurred and inspired her to create her own brand, own style and vivacity.

And so Boost Juice was born, inflaming Janine’s primal steadfast passion.

This year marks sixteen years since the first store opened its doors on King William Street in Adelaide, even though Janine and Jeff were living in Melbourne juggling the responsibilities of three young children, Samuel (6), Oliver (2) and Riley (7 months) across two different states.

 

“His weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are his strengths; we complement each other perfectly and are a great example of when you get the right team together anything can happen.”

“It is difficult to run and grow a business when you have kids, you don’t want to be an absentee mum,” she says. “I have always been a great believer in the idea that children should be in your life, not you in theirs, and they will have a richer life because of it,” she writes in her book The Secrets of my Success. “That is how I resolve the guilt that comes from being a working mum.”

Janine describes a life in the early Boost days having very little time for herself, working ridiculous hours and multiple travel, professional and personal commitments, few friends, no hobbies outside of the business, yet her high achieving determination to make it work was evident.

“I was constantly ‘on’, there was no sitting down and watching TV or leisurely going out to dinner; my life in the early days of Boost wasn’t segregated – work, life, parenting was all jumbled in together,” she recalls. “You can make it work, you just have to set yourself up to succeed and well, you might also need to ask your mum to help look after the kids.”

She excitedly divulges the breakneck speed of her growing empire which rocketed from zero to 100 stores in four years, earning her the prestigious Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award in 2004.

“It was like riding a train going really fast. You just don’t realise how fast while you’re on the journey, but it’s exactly how we would have wished it would be.

 

“My kids are my priority. I have never been a canteen mum or on the parent council and at one time I did feel guilty about it. But there are other mums who probably want to do it and will do it better than me and it isn’t what I want to spend my time doing.”

“And when we needed to grow the business we sold the only asset we had, the family home, and moved our three kids into a rental. We were completely committed to the success of Boost Juice. We couldn’t let it fail. It was exciting, addictive, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.”

Today, Boost Juice stands as a monolithic retail phenomenon with some 350 stores throughout Australia and in 12 countries around the world, growing at a rate of 30 stores a year. It has also been joined by Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill, Cibo Espresso and a trial of Hatch, a fresh approach to takeaway chicken, under the umbrella of parent company Retail Zoo, of which Janine wears the hat of executive director.

Janine jokes she has always been too busy building the business in its upward trajectory to spend much time scoping the competition.

“When you copy something, you can’t innovate. But when you create a brand, you can have fun with it.”

She has the same ideology when it comes to parenthood and her family. She has always made the decisions that were right for her, even if it raised some eyebrows.

“I had an epiphany when I was in South Korea on business to have another child,” she muses. “Whether it was due to this need to nurture something because the womanhood side of me had been lost in the daily grind of the man’s world of business or because I was 39 and the biological clock was ticking loudly, but I knew I wanted another baby.”

It took three years for this epiphany to come full circle. Janine was 42 when she became a mother for the fourth time to her first daughter, Tahlia. Her eldest son was 16. The journey not only required a vasectomy reversal and four rounds of IVF, but was swept up in Janine’s dizzying life holding the reins of the Boost Juice steam train, taking the first steps to diversify the brand and also a director of the Hawthorn Football Club.

“The birth of Tahlia gave Jeff and me time to reflect on what was important in our lives,” she says. “In 2007 Jeff took over as CEO of Boost Juice and I stepped down from the daily dues of powering the business along.”

 

“When we needed to grow the business we sold the only asset we had, the family home, and moved our three kids into a rental. We were completely committed to the success Boost Juice. We couldn’t let it fail. It was exciting, addictive, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time

And in 2010, the couple made a deal with private equity group The Riverside Company.

“Selling part of my fifth child was an excruciating experience for me,” she says. “However, I knew it was the right move to make on a very personal level and we maintained over 25 per cent of the business.

“My kids are my priority. I have never been a canteen mum or on the parent council and at one time I did feel guilty about it,” she muses. “But there are other mums who probably want to do it and will do it better than me and it isn’t what I want to spend my time doing.

“I think people need to see their life in totality and do what is best for them. If you would rather spend your time meditating than helping out at the school canteen don’t put the pressure on yourself to please other people, it won’t make you a better mum, a better wife or better person. You need to do what makes you happy in life.

“If you are unhappy with your life, stop, and make a change. You always have the power to change. Do what you love.

“My family and being fit and healthy are key to my happiness.”

She’s at a point now, she says, where she can finally appreciate her own success, balance work and family, take time out for yoga and surfing and share her wisdom with others by putting her mind and energy into projects like Shark Tank, writing books and blogs including mentoring as a Linkedin influencer and in her spare time, take her daughter to her Year 2 classroom.

The love-life philosophy that Janine created for the Boost Juice brand is one she clearly lives by too.

Never afraid to try new things has certainly worked in favour for Chrissie Swan who shares the breathtaking highs and hard hitting lows on her ascent to stardom.

Chrissie Swan has time for only a brief chat, sitting in her car ahead of an imperative commitment – her son and a gaggle of his Grade 2 classmates are performing at the school assembly. She keeps a watchful eye on the time to ensure she doesn’t miss getting a decent seat.

“If I see too many other mums arriving I will have to run,” she says before unleashing that distinctive, hearty laugh. It is a comforting revelation that behind her astronomical success as commercial radio broadcaster, Logie winner, TV star and presenter as well as author, columnist, fashion label ambassador, at heart she is a dedicated and relatable mother of three.

Thanks to modern technology, complete with connection failures and each believing the other was washed up on some deserted sandy beach from all the static interference, we both find ourselves slotting in our talk amongst the throngs of motherly commitments.

“I can’t wait to see him. It will be so adorable. He even has some lines to speak into the microphone,” she gushes about her eldest son Leo.

Who would have thought when the sassie Melbourne born-and-bred brunette threw open the doors to the voyeuristic Big Brother house in 2003, she would become one of the country’s most enduring and much loved personalities? Obviously coming runner-up to Tasmanian fish and chip store owner, Reggie Bird, has worked out pretty well.

“I have a beautiful life. And for the most part I always land on my feet even if it life turns me in a different direction. I would never change it.”

Never afraid of hard work or taking a risk, Chrissie harbours an admirable ability to dust herself off and try something else when things don’t go smoothly. Perhaps observing the monotony of a career-focused, military father unleashed her carefree attitude about her own career.

“Stability is rare in the entertainment industry, but I think that has kind of suited me. I’m happy to wait and see what opportunities are around the corner,” she admits candidly.

“I have been lucky enough to have been offered some life-changing opportunities and met some amazing people who I can now call my friends. That is more than most people ever get out of their career.”

You could easily be mistaken for thinking her trajectory to stardom has been effortless, dabbling in a bit of morning radio in Queensland shortly after leaving the house, before packing up and heading home to take her seat between radio veteran David O’Neill and then newcomer Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson on Vega 91.5FM breakfast radio. She quickly garnered a loyal following of fans thanks to her warmth and quick wit.

But she openly admits she was the wrong fit for the struggling station that was subsequently re-launched as Classic Rock and then again as Melbourne’s 91.5 after she was axed at the end of 2009. But paying her dues to the airways opened the door to Network Ten’s morning chat show The Circle alongside Yumi Stynes, Gorgi Coghlan and Denise Drysdale in 2010. This stint cemented Swan as a household name after snaring the coveted Most Popular Female Presenter Logie in 2011 and a nomination for the elusive Gold Logie.
Amongst the bustle of car tyres and slamming doors of fellow school mums flooding into the surrounding carpark, she recalls her time on The Circle as one of the highest peaks of her career, a setting that allowed her true colours to shine. But after two years as part of the ensemble Chrissie stepped back into the arms of brekkie radio citing the elusive hunt for better work-life balance with two little boys tugging her heartstrings.
“I remember the discussion I had with my partner Chris about my work on The Circle when I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.” There is a distinct solemness to her voice.

“I loved the work so much so it was a tough call but I had to choose between an amazing job or savouring the opportunity of being mum. You don’t get to do over being a mum if you miss it. So I had to leave knowing another opportunity in television might never come my way.”
The switch from The Circle to Melbourne’s MIX 101.1 to form one half of the side-splitting duo with Jane Hall finally gave Chrissy a radio gig that felt like home, she claims; ”proof of the old adage that when you work with your friends, you never work a day in your life”. And her hesitations over never returning to television were quickly squandered when the offer came knocking to host the second, and third series, of Can of Worms.
After a particularly unceremonious eviction from MIX she didn’t have to wait long for the phone to ring, and in typical Chrissie fashion she shrugged and said “why not?”, and signed up to the jungle asylum on Network Ten’s reality show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
“Six weeks of having absolutely nothing to do gives you plenty of time to untangle a lot of thoughts,” she muses that this was really the only positive to being homesick and starving in a bug-ridden jungle, apart from befriending Joel Creasey and putting on the backburner plans for a comedy duo.
“I can’t believe I survived without my kids or partner for so long. It was so much harder than I ever expected. But I would have missed out on some great life lessons if I had gone home early.”

There was a moment in that South African jungle that still brings a tear to Chrissy’s eye – when young Leo peeked around the shrubbery to see her for the first time in weeks, the rawness of the embrace etched in TV history.
“I missed him so much, I never wanted to let him go. It was a beautiful moment and people still come up to me in the street to tell me how moved they were and we have a little cry together,” she brims.
Alongside her loyal devotees are the ever-watchful critics and Chrissie has felt the dagger more than most, harshly taking aim at her parenting choices and body weight. But she holds her head high, claiming since her debut appearance in the entertainment industry 13 years ago not one personal interaction has proved negative.
“If anybody in the public eye listened and lived according to what was written about them, we’d never leave the house,” she is uncharacteristically brusque.

“People in general are supportive, yet something happens when they are sitting behind a computer screen, but that is only a very small amount of people so it doesn’t really make sense to give them a lot of energy.
“I don’t care about scandals or what people think about my decisions because only I know all the facts. I adore my kids and I really enjoy my work without taking anything for granted and without seeing my career as all that I am.”
She humbly says her career is a place for personal growth and boundless new friends. New to her friendship rolodex are the jaw dropping pint sized word whizzes she embraced with big-sister-like support on The Great Australian Spelling Bee.

“Weren’t they just amazing?” she gushes.

Her words hasten as she describes the completion of filming the second series of the hit show earning her another 18 little friends, but she is cautious with her promise that it will air sooner, rather than later, without giving a specific launch date.

She relays anecdotes of backstage happenings and post production catch-ups, proudly boasting involvement in a secret Facebook group with her “gang”, old series and new. It is clear she was the right person for the job.

“I love keeping in touch with them and hearing all the goss from their lives. They are such amazing kids.”

Her love and compassion for people has also bid her in good stead for her latest role on the television series Long Lost Families, reuniting families from all walks of life, which also filmed this year.

“Oh man, that show is just extraordinary,” she boasts. “I just had no idea about people, the resilience and the heartbreaking stories. That show has been my baby for the past seven or so months and I just love it. I am so proud of it. It has been eye opening and heart warming at the same time.

“Stability is rare in the entertainment industry, but I think that has kind of suited me. I’m happy to wait and see what opportunities are around the corner.”

“I remember sitting in the lounge room with this gentleman in the Northern Territory, there was just the cameraman, him and me and he starts telling me this incredible story about his life and it hit me that he has probably never shared this with anyone ever before and here I am, listening and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. I have come to realise what an honour I have been given being a part of all of this.

“Some stories make you realise how fortunate a life you have had. I have a beautiful life. And for the most part I always land on my feet even if it life turns me in a different direction. I would never change it. Life is always a work in progress.”

And her life’s current progress sees the juggling act of yet another gig on breakfast radio as host of Chrissie, Sam and Browny on Nova 100 alongside the filming of the two television series, yet she tells me this is the first time that her life hasn’t felt completely manic.

“The kids are all in their own beds – well, no – they all go to sleep in their own beds – there are no more nappies, bottles or plastic spoons around the house. It feels that there are no more babies and things are a little more manageable,” she says with a sigh of relief.

Chrissie’s partner Chris Saville – affectionately referred to as The Chippie on air – has taken on the challenge of being a stay-at-home-dad to their three kids, Leo (7), Kit (4) and Peg (3), in an effort to balance homelife with Chrissie’s hectic professional schedule.

And what do the kids make of having a famous mum?

“It is pretty normal to them. They have never known anything else, but the seven-year-old is not really impressed by it, but he likes the shows I work on,” she stifles a laugh to avoid startling a passerby.

“I just got the strangest look sitting in my car giggling to myself,” and she starts laughing twice as hard.

Her sanguine acceptance of reality doesn’t mean she doesn’t experience self doubt or remain wary of her future career prospects. She claims she’s learnt that sometimes, a gamble doesn’t pay off – and that’s OK – you just have to see what is around the next corner.

“I’ll keep slotting swimming lessons and football games alongside filming and radio commitments for as long as I can,” she says. “Maybe one day I will work out what I really want. I would like to write a novel, one day, when I find the time.

“I have got to run, there are loads of other mums arriving and I don’t want to miss getting a good seat.” And she is gone in a flurry of adieus to soak in her son’s fleeting youth.

The prospect of consuming your own placenta might raise a few eyebrows or be guffawed at as cannibalism but placentas have been praised for their medicinal properties for centuries. More recently placenta encapsulation and consuming it as a daily supplement has been praised for its power to ward off postnatal depression, increase energy levels and boost milk supply.

For a growing number of new mums, including celebrities January Jones, Alicia Silverstone and the Kardashian clan, the placenta has become a crucial element in the postnatal medicine cabinet as part of a rapidly growing trend of having your placenta encapsulated into tasteless easy-to-pop pills.

Although far from a new concept, placentophagia, or consumption of the placenta, has been used traditionally for thousands of years for its array of positive postnatal effects. The anecdotal evidence suggests that consumption of the placenta helps make the mental and physical adjustments to motherhood smoother, believed to be resulting from the rich source of nutrients, hormones and other biochemical substances housed within the organ that once supported and nurtured your growing baby.

“The internet abounds with recipes for placenta lasagne or smoothies, placenta tonics and balms and plenty of art and craft.”

People do a lot with placentas these days. The internet abounds with recipes for placenta lasagne or smoothies, placenta tonics and balms and plenty of art and craft. Once sidelined into the quirky category, the business of placenta encapsulation is now booming. Doula, antenatal educator, placenta encapsulator and owner of Traditional Wisdom based in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales Kirrah Holborn says two years ago she would encapsulate 30 placentas a year, this year in January alone she met the demand of 10 clients and close to 100 for the year.

“There has certainly been an increase in popularity, perhaps because celebrities are starting to do it, so it is becoming trendy. But I definitely believe word-of-mouth from mother’s who have first hand experienced the improved hormonal balance, energy levels and milk production after child birth are starting a wave of interest and slowly removing the taboo that was previously associated with it,” she says.

“We are very discreet and the client is removed from the process and any perceived unpleasantness but still get to reap all the benefits of the nutrient and hormone rich placenta.”

 

The reported benefits include:

• Increased energy
• Increased milk supply
• Increased healing
• Mood stability
• Higher iron levels

Many practitioners say they receive very little feedback about negative side effects associated with consuming placenta pills, however those that have include:
• Over supply of milk leading to engorgement
• High energy levels interfering with sleep
• Digestive upset
• Headaches
• And, in some cases, low mood or depression

Just remember like any natural medicine each body and each placenta is different and dosage requirements may vary. Some bodies may not need the supplements found in the placenta. If you experience negative side effects, consult your practitioner.

 

Why would anyone want to eat their placenta?

There is no medical evidence to support or disprove the health benefits of placenta consumption. Since every woman’s placenta, body and environment is unique, the results remain anecdotal.

“We know there’s no current research but specialists around the world are excitedly awaiting the results of scientific studies being undertaken right now” says Kirrah, who just received news of a lifetime membership with the Association of Placenta Preparations Arts.

The belief is that consuming the placenta in any form can help new mothers maintain their hormone and iron levels in the few weeks after the birth, which can speed up healing, help curb fatigue, increase milk supply and reduce anxiety.

“The biggest draw card for most clients is the reported energy boost that can come with consuming placenta, a bonus for any new mum.”

The biggest draw card for most clients is the reported energy boost that can come with consuming placenta, a bonus for any new mum. Since fatigue can be a trigger for postnatal depression (PND), many clients, especially mums who suffered PND in the past feel it is a proactive approach to limiting postnatal depressive symptoms. This is not to suggest that placenta consumption is a cure or treatment for established mental health problems or should it replace any medically-prescribed treatment but it may be one tool in helping to minimise the risk.

“There have been some studies in the past which have anecdotally shown improvement in milk production after treatment with placenta, whether in raw form or encapsulated in pill form,” Kirrah says.

“Once the placenta is delivered, your body’s supply is cut off, but all the hormones and nutrients remain in the placenta, which is often discarded.”

“It might sound zany, but think about it, your placenta basically functions as an organ in your body during your pregnancy, providing sustenance for your child in the womb and full of hormones. Once the placenta is delivered, your body’s supply is cut off, but all the hormones and nutrients remain in the placenta, which is often discarded.”

Kirrah says personal experience has demonstrated mums undergoing caesareans are typically at risk of low milk supply but those consuming encapsulated placentas have been able to avoid this difficulty and also experience an increased rate of healing from the surgery.

How is it done?

There are two key methods for encapsulating a placenta, the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the Raw Method. The key difference is to forgo the steaming process in the Raw method resulting in a shelf life of 12 months.

The TCM method sees the placenta steamed, slowly dehydrated, ground to a powder and then placed into capsules. The capsules look like any other herbal capsule from a chemist. They have little smell or taste.

“This is not to say one method is better than the other, just that you have several options for encapsulation and should choose the method that best suits your needs and preferences,” says Cayla Scarborough, a student midwife and placenta encapsulation specialist based in Perth, Western Australia www.facebook.com/fourthtrimesterencapsulation/ www.fourthtrimesteronline.com.au

“For those who are undecided, I would recommend the TCM method for encapsulation as it is best suited to long-term use to reduce postpartum depression, improve milk supply, or replenish the body after birth. The capsules are believed to have no used by date if properly stored.”

The average placenta yields about 160 capsules.

The average cost of placenta encapsulation is $250-350. Many practitioners offer collection and delivery along with placenta prints and cord keepsakes.

Placenta

 

Can any placenta be encapsulated?

Cayla explains that most placentas from straight forward pregnancies and births are suitable for encapsulation and even those resulting from slightly more difficult antenatal periods or the birth of multiples are still viable.

“I have encapsulated placentas from women who have had inductions, epidurals and caesareans. Even those who experienced meconium or StrepB can still be encapsulated with some extra care,” she explains.

“For those babies born prematurely, depending on the level of prematurity, the placenta can still be used although the amount of capsules will be less than a full term baby. Mums of premature babies often need extra support for their breast milk to come in and balancing their postpartum emotions so even if your doctor wants to culture the placenta, you can try to negotiate to have just a piece of the placenta taken to pathology so you can encapsulate the rest.

“If all the placenta is sent to pathology for testing it is unlikely that it will still be suitable as the preserving chemicals used on the placenta are not safe for ingestion. It is also not likely to be kept sterile or treated as a food product.”

Women are encouraged to discuss their wishes of encapsulation with their chosen hospital and care givers prior to the birth to understand the policies and procedures and to ensure appropriate care and handling of the organ after birth.

Are there regulations and qualifications? 

Understandably there are questions and uncertainty about the safety, governance and qualifications surrounding placenta encapsulation as there are no current regulations. So choose your practitioner wisely. Most often placenta practitioners are also a doula, midwife or operate in some form with pregnant and birthing mums. A good practitioner should have undertaken a specialist training course and follow the standards in blood-borne pathogen control and safe food handling with high quality equipment and strict sanitisation.

Claire Armstrong (WA)

“Although I embraced the concept of natural birth, I was slightly sceptical about trying placenta encapsulation and my family found the idea quite squeamish. But after researching the benefits and knowing that I would need all the help I could get after the birth of our third child with my husband leaving to work overseas 12 days later, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try.

“I followed the recommended dosages and felt energised, able to cope and had a very quick recovery from the induced and speedy birth. The only downside was I have always had great milk supply and did find myself slightly more engorged than previously but this did settle. “

Holly Layland (NSW)

“A friend recommended placenta encapsulation to me and I’m so glad she did. I went through postnatal depression after the birth of my first two babies but with number three I felt great. The capsules give me so much energy and I had my iron tested the other day and my levels are great for the first time in my adult life! I would recommend it to anyone who is about to have a baby.”

Is it just a passing trend?

While the jury is still out if there are any scientifically measurable benefits from consuming encapsulated placenta and some claim it is only a passing trend, there are many convinced this practice will only continue to grow as practitioners report increased first time mums and private sector patients calling for the service. Midwives and antenatal classes are also beginning to educate clients about the services empowering others to take a proactive approach to their postnatal recovery. And although there maybe some DIY placenta encapsulation kits on the market, it is a job best left to the professionals.

There are moments in life when something so big, so dramatic occurs that the life you once knew is irrevocably altered. Learning your toddler has cancer has the ability to do just that. It takes profound fighting spirit to take your child on the journey through chemotherapy and remission experiencing setbacks and side effects and come out the other side positive and thankful. But this is exactly what one mum has done.

Hearing the words “your child has cancer” is something no parent ever wants to hear, but the sad reality is that cancer kills more children than any other disease in Australia. A realisation newly separated Perth mum of two, Kerrin Hampson found herself facing on July 2, 2010.
The cheerful and unassuming Perth librarian sits across from me in a small, well-lit meeting room and poignantly describes her hatred of the month of July, the diagnosis anniversary clearly a painful memory.
“He had been sick for what seemed like forever,” she tells me of her son Marley, who at 14 months old started displaying vague symptoms of chronic tiredness and loss of appetite.
“I thought maybe he was going through some kind of growth or development pattern, that he was tired and behaving out of character for normal reasons. Then my dad noticed a swollen lymph node at the back of his neck and the fevers started – fevers that Panadol couldn’t settle. This was the first time I took him to my regular doctor. By this stage he had been unwell for over two weeks. But we were sent away with no explanation.”

“I was frustrated. I started to think it was me, that I was crazy. To me Marley was obviously ill and no-one could tell me what was going on.”

Kerrin considered glandular fever or Ross River Virus due to the family’s proximity to a local Lakeland as possible illnesses plaguing her once cheeky and lively toddler and spent hours searching online for answers. She returned to the GP but the outcome was the same. Then, Marley stopped walking.
“Marley had been able to walk from 11 months old. When he stopped walking, that was scary. I took him to Princess Margaret Hospital, our local children’s hospital. But again, there was no answer,” she says.
“I was frustrated. I started to think it was me, that I was crazy. To me Marley was obviously ill and no-one could tell me what was going on.”
Finally, after Marley had been ill for four weeks and steadily declining, Kerrin went to collect him and his brother Morris (2.5 years) from care and found him listless, feverish and refusing to eat. Exasperated she packed her floppy haired little boy into the car and drove him to Fremantle Hospital Emergency Department.
“To me he looked sick. And the nurses obviously suspected something too because they arranged for the paediatrician on call to come and see us. He gave him the once over and admitted us straight away. They did a blood test that night. This was the first time a blood test had been ordered.”
The next morning a group of doctors came to explain they had sent off the blood samples to rule out Leukaemia. Kerrin recalls that it had been her dad that had first mentioned Leukaemia as a possibility but she had shrugged it off thinking kids don’t get cancer and all the media reports about lifestyle choices and genetics just didn’t apply to their family.

The results came back positive.
Kerrin and Marley were ambulance transferred – because he was deemed too fragile to be driven – and admitted to PMH.
“We were taken down to the basement of the hospital, ward 3B – kids haematology and oncology and put in a room,” she steadily recounts the moments her world spun of its axis. “We were immediately surrounded by doctors and nurses and all sorts of test were planned and I signed so much paperwork I can’t even recall.
“I had just been told my child has cancer, my brain was not working. But they bombarded me with information. And the only thing I got out of it was that, in Australia, the successful cure rate for Marley’s cancer after five years is 95 per cent. That is good but I didn’t know how to process it.”
Kerrin admits much of that time is a blur. She remembers it was a Friday when they arrived at PMH and Marley needed to be stabilised with blood and platelet transfusions before treatment could begin the following Monday. Kerrin has since been told that given his age and the advanced stage of the cancer, Marley would not have lasted much longer without medical intervention.

Marley was officially diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia – standard risk. He was 15 months old. And so began the daunting, relentless and tumultuous fight for Marley’s life.
“He was a very sick little boy on admission, with more than one virus, plus the cancer ravaging his body,” Kerrin describes. “He was so lethargic they were able to place his cannula without struggle.”
“I will always be indebted to blood donors. The difference in him after he received the blood was amazing. I lost count of the amount of transfusions Marley needed over the course of his treatment but it would be easily more than 10, maybe as high as 20.”
The decision for Marley’s treatment was to be a three part process – induction to shock his little body into responding to treatment followed by consolidation to reduce the number of leukaemia cells in his body. If the leukaemia remained in remission after the first two phases, maintenance therapy would begin. Steroids were a big part of the initial treatment causing Marley to experience rapid and significant weight gain and an insatiable hunger.
“He always had food in his hand!” she jokes.
Time seemed to take on a new meaning at this point, sometimes getting through the next five hours was as terrifying as the prospect of fighting this invasive disease for the next five years. The first six months of Marley’s treatment were devoted to the induction and consolidation processes. The remaining time, almost three years, were dedicated to his maintenance phase with Marley receiving chemotherapy every day during that time. Kerrin explains because boys are at higher risk for relapse than girls, the doctors favour giving them several more months of treatment.

Kerrin admits Marley coped well with most of his gruelling treatment from the port implantation, chemotherapy, nasogastric tube, the lumbar punctures, antibiotics, IVs and transfusions. There were only a handful of times the chemotherapy made him violently sick mainly due to missed anti-nausea medication. Although anticipated, it was still difficult when his hair fell out and it has never regrown quite the same, it is now sparse and curly. And Marley got sick far more than other patients, catching any cold and flu going around which landed him back in hospital and in isolation.
During treatment Marley also developed blood sugar issues, which have since gone, but resulted in some scary incidents bringing him out of anaesthetic and also saw him collapsing and blacking out at times. He also has a lasting, relentless cough from bacteria in his lungs for which he is still seeking treatment.
By February 2013, Marley was two and a half years into treatment and at the encouragement of his doctors began kindy at the local primary school. His first day of school was less than two months after he woke up on Christmas morning in hospital, in isolation, due to yet another infection. His school enrolment added a further dynamic to family life and another constant source of concern that he would contract an illness from his young classmates. A simple cold can kill a child with a severely compromised immune system.
Kerrin explains the agonising anxiety when Marley’s little body stopped fighting the way it was supposed to towards the end of his treatment and he become an in-patient more and more, sending around whispers of potential relapse.
As a single parent, Kerrin recalls the time Marley endured his treatment as very solitary and overwhelming, simply being pushed along by life, forced into a new routine focused around hospital and specialist visits, test results and the endless worrying challenges cancer treatment brings. She coped with the situation because she had no other choice. At home she was juggling the needs of the household and another young child. Meanwhile, her full time job had to be put on hold as she took unpaid leave. Financially, emotionally and physically it was draining and unrelenting. She understatedly recalls the time as being ‘quite hard’. Kerrin is nothing short of modest and resilient.

As a single parent, Kerrin recalls the time Marley endured his treatment as very solitary and overwhelming…at home she was juggling the needs of the household and another young child…her full time job had to be put on hold as she took unpaid leave. Financially, emotionally and physically it was draining and unrelenting.

“The thing that made things easier at home was that the kids were so little. The boys didn’t have expectations of me as a parent or jealousy towards one another. I think if Marley was to be diagnosed now the boys are older it would have been an entirely different and more difficult experience.” Kerrin has this amazing ability to find the positives in any situation.
Thankfully his age also worked in his favour during treatment response and Marley never experienced a relapse. But three years is an incredibly long time for such a little body to take chemotherapy. Marley finally finished treatment in August 2013, a month earlier than protocol due to issues with neutropenia and his bone marrow which had stopped working. And while his story is a success story and his doctors don’t believe they will ever see him back on the ward, the story doesn’t end with his remission.
His treatment has accounted for half his life and he is still attending bi-monthly oncology appointments and regular heart checkups due to a known side effect of a particular chemotherapy drug. Marley has been left with some behavioural issues possibly due to the chemotherapy that was pushed into his spinal fluid to save his brain from cancer. He also sees an Occupational Therapist weekly to assist with socialisation and to give him strategies to help with a constant fidgeting. There is also the heightened possibility of learning difficulties which will be assessed as Marley grows up.

“This September will be two years off treatment. I feel like I have come through the other side like a grief process. I am only just getting to a point that I am not worried about a relapse. It is really hard not to worry,” Kerrin says.
“I look at him now and wonder who he would be if he actually lived his toddler years like a normal healthy child and who I would be as a mum if I had never had a child with cancer. It is hard to think about and has been hard to accept that I can’t change things.
“But Marley having cancer has changed my perspective on life and definitely taught me to be grateful and appreciative of what I have. I had always taken it for granted that my kids would grow up healthy.”

These days Kerrin and her bright and lively boys spend a great deal of their spare time enjoying being together and giving back to the community. Marley become the face for the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Foundation in 2014 in the same year that older brother Morris decided for his 7th birthday in-lieu of gifts he would ask for donations for the research foundation.
Marley is now well enough to get out on the field and play football in a local team alongside his big brother and also participates in Little Athletics. He is quite the sportsman. The young family is also about to see Marley’s Make A Wish come true with a trip to Victoria to experience the majestic snow fields. Although Kerrin shares a private joke that she is not so keen on the snow aspect of the trip but the thrill on the boys’ faces and the life-long memories that will be created act as her lure.

“I remember being told that if a child has to have cancer then Marley’s is the best cancer to have. But to me that is a flawed notion, nobody should get cancer, definitely no child.”

“I remember being told that if a child has to have cancer then Marley’s is the best cancer to have. But to me that is a flawed notion, nobody should get cancer, definitely no child. My wish is a cure for childhood cancer. I hope one day my wish comes true too,” Kerrin says with conviction.
“His journey has been long. He has made friends with other little kids on the ward that never went home again; that isn’t right, but he’s come out the other side with so much strength and empathy. I hope his future is bright and he achieves all he wants in life and any side effects from his treatment are taken in his stride. His cancer has taught us to live for each day, each moment. We don’t take anything for granted.”

 

Call the Australian Red Cross Blood Service to find out if you are eligible to donate or to book an appointment on 13 14 95 or visit www.donateblood.com.au or to donate towards research visit www.childcancerresearch.com.au.

The vivacious brunette beauty Krystal Barter opens up to Claire Armstrong about her life altering preventative double mastectomy, subsequent book launch and founding the support network Pink Hope, empowering women to take control of their hereditary breast and ovarian health.

Before Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie hit news headlines after her perfectly healthy breasts were removed in a preventative cancer effort, there stood North Manly mum Krystal Barter, grasping medical results that cemented her long held belief of a positive testing to a rogue gene fault that had relentlessly wreaked cancerous havoc across generations of her family. This proved the catalyst to undergoing a double mastectomy, at the age of just 25.

Yet she claims she isn’t brave or courageous.

She considers herself lucky. A depiction which lends itself to the title of her first book, The Lucky One, released in March this year.

“I never had cancer, I didn’t have to fight for my life every day and go through gruelling treatment,” she says. “Those families that face cancer are brave and courageous. I just did the best I could with the information I had.

“I was given forewarning to save my life and I chose to use it.

“A drop of prevention really is worth a kilo of cure.”

Krystal also acknowledges her innate determination to escape the “cancer curse” that had plagued her family for decades and become the first woman in four generations to say she hasn’t had breast cancer.

“My family carries the BRCA1 gene fault, which increases a carrier’s chances of developing breast cancer up to 80 percent and ovarian cancer up to 50 percent. Yet despite those odds everyone in my family who carries the gene has developed cancer and most haven’t won the fight,” she says.

“Of the 25 women in our extended family, 80 per cent of them died from cancer. We are fortunate though, my mum and Nan are still here, some of the very few women in my family to be bearing the scars and fighting through recurrences.”

Krystal was just 14 years old when her mum was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. Her grandmother was diagnosed at 44 and her great grandma at 68 years old.

“I grew up in a world defined by cancer,” she says. “I was in a family where pretty much every woman didn’t have any breasts. It was confusing environment for a young girl to learn about her body. It meant I grew up being scared that I was going to get cancer, very scared.

“I was given forewarning to save my life and I chose to use it.”

“At 16, I remember running to my mum saying I’d found a lump and demanded to be taken to a doctor for a breast examination – that’s not normal behaviour for a teenage girl.”

Krystal’s intensified sense of fear lead her down a dark path of drugs and alcohol during her teenage years and a depression diagnoses which she airs with brutal honesty in her book. Today, she reminisces about that sinister time with light-hearted humour.

“Since my book launch, my mum Julie has received a lot of messages of support and sympathy because I was a horrible teenager, just awful,” she says with a chuckle in her voice. “If you had met me then and before my surgery and known how negative I was and the way I felt about my old breasts it would be easy to see the transformation I have endured to be where I am at now. It is like the sun has finally started shining.”

Despite her heightened risk for carrying the gene fault and developing cancer, Krystal wasn’t emotionally ready to be tested until she was 22 and holding her first born child.

“It meant I grew up being scared that I was going to get cancer, very scared.”

“My mum and my Nan were actually among the first people tested for the BRCA gene fault [the same as Angelina Jolie] in Australia. I was 18 when they were tested,” she says.

Four years after her mother and grandmother tested BRCA positive, a blood test revealed Krystal’s genetic predisposition to follow their footsteps. The suffocating enormity of her future prospects caused Krystal debilitating anxiety attacks and insomnia.

“This gene and the knowledge of what it would bring me was a lot to carry,” she says. “I was so fearful for my life.

“And I was very alone. There was nobody my age anywhere who was making any other choices besides vigilance and screening and the medical system only had support in place for cancer sufferers. There was nothing available if you wanted to choose a preventative path.”

Over the next few years Krystal blindly navigated the alternative options, but due to a sheer lack of resources and support at the time in Australia the journey was physically and emotionally isolating.

Eventually, her tireless search uncovered an organisation based in the United States called Bright Pink. Its founder Lindsay Avner, also a carrier of the BRCA1 gene fault, had become the youngest American to opt for a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction at 23 years old. Through their shared adversity a friendship blossomed and bestowed the gift of hope that a future living with the BRCA gene was possible.

“I found the conviction to stop allowing cancer to define me in a negative way and decided I too wanted a double mastectomy,” she says. “My husband was incredibly supportive. I remember him telling me to do what I needed to do because he didn’t want to be raising our son alone.

“To many, it seemed extreme, even for the medical professionals it was termed ‘radical’ surgery. My plastic surgeon couldn’t even show me a photo of a patient who had been through a preventative mastectomy. But for me it was an opportunity to take control of my family’s hereditary health and beat this curse.

“Ask any woman that has cancer if they had been told beforehand they would get it, what would they do? I had that piece of paper that told me cancer was coming. I reacted.”

The surgery was scheduled for March 2009. Krystal was just 25 years old and then had two young sons. But after a routine mammogram picked up suspicious changes in the breast tissue, her surgery was rushed through in November 2008.

However bold and confident she may appear today, Krystal says the time surrounding her surgery was incredibly daunting, because other than Lindsay she hadn’t found anyone else that had opted for this preventative approach.

“I wondered where the other BRCA positive women were and why they weren’t talking about it and I swore to myself that I never wanted another woman to feel as alone as I did at that moment,” she says. “I knew I had an obligation to ensure every high-risk woman didn’t walk the journey alone and I could use my experience to make a positive change. It was a profound moment.”

Krystal explains the actual mastectomy procedure as very different to a boob job and disputes any likening between the two with all tissue needing to be removed including nipples. An additional surgery was necessary for the reconstruction with expanders set in place and pumped up every three weeks to stretch the skin to house the implants, which were placed in yet another surgery.

Krystal required a further surgery to replace her initial implants after one rotated out of position.

Her feature on Channel 9’s 60 minutes program in 2009 saw Krystal comment she hated her old breasts, yet when Offspring asked how she feels about her new additions, she remarked “I love these ones. They look great. They have no nipples and the sensations have been slow to return, but I love them because they are not going to make me sick. I feel more beautiful now than I ever have before.”

After her surgery and still in her hospital bed, Krystal took the first steps to making monumental changes to the lives of people touched by BRCA and established Pink Hope, Australia’s first online community for people at high risk of developing cancer and their families.

“I made it my personal mission to provide information, resources, support and empowerment for the high risk community and encourage all women to be proactive and vigilant,” she says.

It didn’t take long for Pink Hope to gain a sea of followers with its website currently receiving more than 1 million hits in peak times, plus supporting a forum of over 2,500 members and more than 50,000 social media followers.

“Last year when news broke of Angelina Jolie’s decision to remove her breasts there was a 701 per cent increase in people accessing our services. The website crashed,” she says.

“There are some 240,000 Australian men and women who potentially carry a genetic predisposition to breast, ovarian or prostate cancer and it is my mission to find those people and help them make life saving and life altering decisions and support them through that.”

“There are some 240,000 Australian men and women who potentially carry a genetic predisposition to breast, ovarian or prostate cancer and it is my mission to find those people and help them make life saving and life altering decisions and support them through that.”

When Offspring spoke to Krystal she was a hive of happy energy in the midst of preparing for Bright Pink Lipstick Day calling on people everywhere to pucker up their brightest pink lippy on September 26 as a sign of support.

Her dreams continue to flourish with the recent employment of an online genetic counsellor to ensure high risk families get the professional support they need outside of the health care environment. From here, Krystal envisages a finance program to assist families not coping with the costs of dealing with heredity cancer.

The success of Pink Hope has led Krystal to receive accolades such as the 2012 New South Wales Young Australian of the Year finalist and a finalist for the InStyle Audi Women of Style Scholarship, the Harpers Bazaar Woman of Influence award in 2011 and the Warringah Young Citizen of the Year in 2010.

Along with her charity, modern medicine has rapidly advanced too. The now 30-year-old is being applauded for her decision to proceed with having her fallopian tubes and one of her ovaries removed in the coming months to reduce her chance of getting ovarian cancer. And at 35 she plans to have the other ovary taken out.

“One day my kids will realise I am a different mum to what I could have been had I not had the surgery and that the decisions I made were just as much for them as they were for me,” she says.

“My mum gave me letters on my wedding day that she had written in case the worst happened because she didn’t know if she would make it. I feel that I won’t have to write those letters in those circumstances to my children. I have done all I can.”

Her mum now lives next door to Krystal and her family, clearly the wicked teenage years are a mere memory as Krystal boasts she is privileged to have her dearest friend just a stone throw away.

“My life today revolves around my four children, my three human babies, Riley, 9, Jye, 6, and my baby girl Bonnie soon to be 4, and Pink Hope. It is like having another child, I gave life to it, put so much energy into it and it fills me with so much pride.

“I may have lost my breasts, but I gained my life.”

Krystal gives these tips to all women to ensure we remain vigilant and informed:

  • Research your family history – did you know your family history on both your mother and your father’s side is just as important?
  • If you are concerned about your family history contact your GP who may refer you to a Family Cancer Clinic.
  • If you want to know more visit www.canceraustralia.gov.au or take Cancer Australia’s Risk Calculator click here canceraustralia.nbocc.org.au/risk/
  • If you are a BRCA sufferer or known someone who is, or would like to donate, visit www.pinkhope.org.au

Your home is your castle, a sentiment never more true than in Danish culture where home furnishings of true craftsmanship is the norm and the nursery is no exception. Australian families have been granted special entry into this kingdom thanks to a unique Mumpreneur business, Danish by Design, bringing an exquisite range of baby furniture to our shores.

Danish by Design is the brainchild of Melbourne-based but Denmark born and raised Gillian Rose, a story none too dissimilar to many start-up mum’s businesses seeking to fill a gap in the Australian market and dreaming of a way to combine work and motherhood.

After returning to her homeland – think Southern Isles from the latest Disney classic Frozen – to show off her first born bundle of joy, Gillian fell in love with the nursery products on offer and longed to bring them home. But it wasn’t until a few years, a lot of encouragement from her husband Nigel and another baby later, that, in 2001, her first container of beloved Danish nursery crafts arrived Down Under, completely pre-sold.

“It is only worth pursuing a business dream if you are willing to put in the time and effort to build it up and stick with it.”

With a Bachelor of Commerce and Marketing under her belt but no background in retail or importing, Gillian had to rely on the strength of the product to give rise to her ambitious dream of promoting these high-end products to Australian mums and dads as an alternative to mass produced furnishings.

“To get an idea of the style of products available in Demark, you need to realise due to the weather that Danish living is predominately inside living for eight months of the year, Gillian says. “The houses are not enormous like those often built here, but they are looked upon as your castle. The furniture is usually light not just because of the timbers available but to balance the dark outside.”

Another key to Danish design is a culture of people prepared to buy expensive pieces of furniture as an investment to last a lifetime.

“There is none of this throw-away mentality. So what you have in your home needs to be of exceptional quality and timeless in style. There is less a focus on what the product costs as opposed to what the product does.”

“I quickly learned this romantic idea of running a business from home was a fallacy because every time you step into that office you see yourself as a bad mother and every time you step out of that office you see a bad business woman.”

The key import of Danish by Design is the Leander range, which at some point most of us have probably oohed and ahhed over the coveted sleek oval cot with its ability to transform five different ways or the elegant high chair which grows with your child right up to an adult, capable of holding 130kg, just a few on the list of successes.

Gillian describes the brand as highly in-tune with the needs of children and the unity of family, with the idea of feeding children first or grabbing a meal on the run as almost unheard of for many Danes; instead the products focus on bringing children of differing ages to the table. The idea of moving a child from a cot to a single bed is also something very foreign, hence the Danes’ love of converting cots.

She admits it has been a tough slog growing the business. In the beginning it was a matter of juggling the kids and home life with making personal calls, to baby stores asking them to stock the products, and then using a makeshift warehouse with plastic sheeting on the floor to house the goods and manual labour for loading and shipping, plus the delight of adding a third baby to the brood.

“I quickly learned this romantic idea of running a business from home was a fallacy because every time you step into that office you see yourself as a bad mother and every time you step out of that office you see a bad business woman. There is a constant battle that needs realistic boundaries to be fair to both sides, and yourself,” she says.

Fast forward thirteen years and Danish by Design is now based in a 700 square metre distribution centre in Victoria’s Braeside with pallet racking, a forklift and six staff, including Gillian’s husband who left his role as a physiotherapist to get involved. The challenge now is to keep up with demand.

Thankfully, working in the baby industry it wasn’t frowned upon when her own children interrupted phone conversations or tagged along to meetings. Now past the baby years, with Anna-Sofie 15, Maia 13 and Mattias 11, Gillian says a true testament to the versatility of the Leander brand is the continued use of the convertible high chair in her home, as a piano stool, study desk and spare dining chair for dinner guests.

When asked what has been her biggest learning curve, she says it is to not be blind sighted by the daily grind and continue to think big and follow dreams.

“The starting phases of a business can be quite exciting, but then comes the reality of finding the determination to keep going when exhaustion sets in,” she says.

“It is only worth pursuing a business dream if you are willing to put in the time and effort to build it up and stick with it. Even a small online business has to be considered as if you standing on the side of a busy highway with a sandwich board. But if you have a dream and the support behind you and are willing to do the hard yards, then go for it.”

So what is her favourite product? Gillian finds it difficult to choose just one but says the most exciting is the Bednest. Only arriving in June last year, the timber bassinette with over 70 settings including the ability to tilt to assist reflux babies, is perfect for co-sleeping while ensuring the baby remains safe in their own space.

And the Danish by Design range continues to expand as complimentary Scandinavian products matching the company ethos of design, function and quality come on board with a range of strollers and Moover Toys earning their place in March this year. And there is potential for even more with a planned trip to Germany to visit to the Kind + Jugend international trade fair for children and youth in September.

“The message we want to send parents is that we understand everyone has a budget to work within, but the Leander range will never disappoint, sometimes something slightly more expensive is worth considering when it will last not just for your first baby, but every baby thereafter and even beyond the baby years,” she says. “There are a few essential items your baby needs and a lot of things that are just nice to have, spend your budget wisely buying quality essential items. Quality enhances the beauty of living!”