Reinventing herself as a social media specialist, along with a helping hand from family, enabled Mim Jenkinson (pictured) to ward off financial disaster when a cancer diagnosis forced her to give up a new job a month after relocating her family from Britain to Australia.
Jenkinson and her carpenter husband Miles met in Sydney in 2007 and spent several years living there before heading back home to Britain for an extended working holiday, following the birth of their first child in 2013.
Eighteen months later and with a second baby in tow, they were ready to return to Australia and decided to settle in Newcastle, where housing costs are more affordable than Sydney.
The couple felt upbeat about the future after Jenkinson lined up a job with a local recruitment firm, but in November 2015, just two weeks into the role, nature threw an emotionally and financially devastating curve ball.
“Because I was going back to work I’d begun weaning my son,” Jenkinson says. “I hadn’t known there was a problem before that but I just had this sensation something wasn’t quite right. And then one morning in the shower I discovered a lump in my left breast.”
Dealing with the devastating news
Four days later she was faced with the news that she had triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease for which there is no defined treatment plan.
“At 37, that was just not on my radar,” Jenkinson says. “It was a horrible diagnosis and for the first day we just cried and told everyone and had all these awful emotions, especially because we had two little kids.
“I looked at them and thought ‘they’re not going to have a mum’ and of all the things I’d never get to experience in their lives.”
Financial worries came hot on the heels of the diagnosis. Miles had to knock back a job offer so he could care for Jenkinson and their children, and after six weeks of treatment she handed in her own notice.
The pair didn’t have income protection or life insurance, although organising the latter had been on the ‘to do’ list.
“I actually had some quotes but I was so busy with the move, I kept saying ‘can you ring me tomorrow, can you ring me tomorrow’ – and then I got the diagnosis,” Jenkinson says.
“Once you’ve had a cancer diagnosis no one will ever give you life insurance and that was a really difficult thing to come to terms with. Thinking you’re going to die, with not much in savings and no life insurance and your husband being self-employed – it made me feel awful.
“If this had happened while we were in the UK or before we left Australia, I would’ve had life insurance and income protection through my work but the way it panned out we had nothing to fall back on but our savings which were supposed to go towards a deposit on a house.
“It was just really, really difficult financially. We were completely reliant on my income and that was taken away. Our savings became the only thing we had to spend, neither of us was working and we had medical bills for my surgery and treatment so everything was just going down.”
Picking up the pieces
A blog which Jenkinson had started as a hobby shortly after the birth of her first child proved a financial lifeline.
Love from Mim is targeted at work-from-home mothers and covers a gamut of personal and lifestyle topics. It generates income in the form of sponsorship and advertising revenue and its popularity has seen Jenkinson pick up freelance gigs producing social media and marketing material for other businesses.
“Once I started treatment, whenever I was well enough, I just threw myself into work and tried to see it as an opportunity,” Jenkinson says.
“We wouldn’t have been in a strong enough position financially for me to quit work to pursue my own blog and freelance business for a long time but because I had no choice, I couldn’t work for anyone else, I wanted to keep busy.
“I got up every day at a reasonable time and worked until the kids came home from day care. It made time go faster and gave me something to focus on and it provided us with an income as well, so it’s worked out really well, thankfully.”
Financial and practical assistance from her parents also helped lighten the load.
“My folks had already made the decision to migrate here and after I had the diagnosis they managed to come a little quicker,” Jenkinson says.
“We rented a house that was big enough to accommodate all of us and they paid the rent while we were getting on our feet – that helped us enormously. Once they’d settled it meant Miles could start working too.”
Jenkinson finished treatment in August 2016 and while it will be four years until she receives a clean bill of health, she says things are beginning to look up. The family is preparing to move to a house purchased jointly with her parents and Love from Mim is doing brisk business.
“You have two options dealing with any kind of crisis, fight or flight,” she says. “I’m very pragmatic and as soon as I got the emotional heartache and worry out of the way it just meant, ‘this has happened, this is what we need to do to pick ourselves up and get through it’.”
My financial journey is a series from ANZ Women on how Australian women have overcome major obstacles and taken charge of their finances.