Prominent public relations specialist Anna Jobsz is calling for agencies to offer more support to single parents who undergo major surgeries or illnesses.
Jobsz has opened up about her struggle caring for her son alone, while also recovering from two major surgeries.
After discovering she had a mutated BRCA gene, and a 90 per cent chance of getting cancer, in April 2016 Jobsz opted to have a mastectomy to reduce her cancer risk.
Months later she had reconstructive surgery.
All the while, she cared for her 3-year-old son full time.
Her family is overseas and Jobsz could depend on friends occasionally, but Jobsz was disappointed to be told by Work and Income New Zealand her only options were to receive a long term benefit, or nothing.
"I think most single parents want to keep working despite illness, and they don't want to get into further debt because they take three weeks off work to recover," Jobsz said.
"When I came home from hospital I would have friends come over the first few days if they could spare an hour or three away from work, which was a big help, but the hardest part was at night.
"My son would often wake up two or three times in the night because he was unsettled after I'd been away in hospital and at that point I could barely walk and I was still on heavy meds. Getting up at night and lifting him out of his cot was difficult mentally and physically."
She recalled five days after leaving hospital having to take her son to his own surgery to receive grommets. They were at the hospital all day. The appointment had been a long time coming and she didn't feel she could cancel.
"I had to drive him, and get him into the hospital in his pram, upstairs in the carpark, and help him through the day while I was on heavy meds and just wanted to sleep. I had waited months for him to get on the operating schedule for grommets, and his hearing was so bad, I had to go. Those moments are truly tough."
Following her surgeries Jobsz was readmitted to hospital after contracting infections, and at that point the hospital appointed a social worker because they could see she was struggling. The worker said a WINZ staffer would visit her to explore options, but no one showed up, Jobsz said.
After following up she said she was told to call her family, or go on a long term benefit. Dismayed to discover there is no short term option available, she's calling on the agency to introduce one for solo parents who find themselves in her position- juggling work and a child, and extra costs including medication, childcare, and travel.
Only after her surgeries did ACC contact Jobsz to tell her what payment options she might be eligible for, and Jobsz fears that single parents who don't think to ask, won't receive.
She wants WINZ, ACC, and hospital staff to work together to ensure patients like her get the right support.
"I hope that together we can find a solution because with an alarming rate of breast cancer in New Zealand, especially amongst Maori women, I can imagine that many future single mothers will have to deal with this issue. How can we find a way to take care of our parents in a short term way without them ending up on long term benefits?"
A social media post where she spoke about her struggles received strong support from others, including Minister Nikki Kaye, who recently battled breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor and breast cancer charity Paddle for Hope founder Karin Horen said the gap in support was a major issue.
Horen was first diagnosed with cancer at 26, which returned in her 40s. She has three children whom she cared for after her surgeries.
"There's people who have no access to anything. You sit in this hospital for days and they don't give you any idea what you're entitled to. The problem with cancer is that it doesn't finish with chemotherapy, or radiation, or an operation. It's the ongoing effects that you're dealing with."
Breast Cancer New Zealand spokeswoman Adele Gautier said breast cancer survivors were often surprised at the financial impact on themselves and their families.
"We have a free healthcare system and getting surgery and drugs is not a problem, but the additional costs can cause a really hard time. It's a tough situation made even tougher."
A WINZ spokesperson said it had a range of benefits available for single parents and that what they were eligible for was dependant on individual circumstances. In emergencies assistance could also be provided for accommodation, childcare, and medical costs.