A Market Harborough author has written a searingly-honest new book about her terror at being struck down by life-changing conditions – when she was just 23.
In her own powerful words brave Jen Parker, 36, is “baring her soul” into her relentless battle over the last 13 years to combat and manage a cocktail of incurable illnesses.
To make it even more shattering Jen was travelling the world on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and looking forward to an exciting career in the police when she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Talking to the Harborough Mail about that nightmare moment, the courageous mum-of-two said: “My stomach lurched and my whole world was turned upside down in an instant.
“Everything suddenly changed for me straight away.
“I suddenly had to deal with this life-changing thing.
“I had high hopes and so many bright ambitions and big dreams for my life ahead as everyone does,” said Jen.
“And then you are left wondering just what’s going to happen to them.
“And it was especially shocking because I was just 23 years old – and I had the whole world at my feet.”
Her revelatory new memoir Unflip gives you a coruscating insight into her life as she tackles full-time work, launches her own business and becomes a mum to two girls aged three and five.
“I’m very excited about my new book but I’m terrified at the same time.
“It’s scary because I’m baring my soul and it’s a genuine warts and all read, I don’t hold anything back,” laughed Jen.
“From being a little girl at school I’d always wanted to be a detective catching criminals.
“I had absolutely set my heart on joining the police.
“But when I tried to join Leicestershire Police when I got back from my round-the-world tour the force wouldn’t even let me apply because of my illnesses.
“So my world came came crashing down and I was thinking – what do I do next?
“I was very lucky that my mother spotted an ad for a publishing house.
“I got the job, I enjoyed it and I’ve now gone on to set up my own successful design business called Fuzzy Flamingo in Market Harborough.
“Luckily medication treating these illnesses over the years has improved and I am on immunosuppressants.
“I am still in pain all the time and it would be tempting to curl up in a corner thinking that this was the end of my life,” admitted Jen.
“But you have to stay on the move – both physically and mentally.
“It would be easy to think I couldn’t do anything.
“But you have to jump out of bed on a morning and you’ve got to push yourself.
“There is a balance to strike.
“If I do silly things or do too much I’ll have a flare-up of pain and I’ll really suffer.
“But I’ve got to get out for a 20-minute walk with my girls and our dog every morning so that I don’t seize up.
“I used to fear I’d end up disabled, end up in a wheelchair.
“It is frightening when you see older people with defused spines, it’s terrible.
“My back is fusing but I still have movement and I’ve got to stay mobile.
“If you let the pain take over then it just makes it far worse.
“You can’t give in to it, you’ve got to be brave and you’ve got to be up for the fight.
“As well as telling my own personal story in Unflip I want to raise people’s awareness of ankylosing spondylitis because so little is known about it,” said Jen.
“I also want to inspire people diagnosed with it.
“It is tough but it’s not the end of the world – life will go on.
“You have to make a definite plan and then you’ve got to put it into action.
“You have to stay positive – and reach out for help and support.
“And I am always more than happy to talk to people who would like to speak to me to learn more.”
Praising Jen’s new book, Dr Dale Webb, chief executive of the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society, (NASS), said: “Ankylosing spondylitis is more common than MS and Parkinson's combined and yet many people have never heard of it.
“For this reason, when someone receives their diagnosis, it can feel overwhelming and isolating,” said Dr Webb.
“By writing about her experiences, Jen is raising awareness for the condition and helping people know that they are not alone.”Saluting Jen, Holly Matthews, a self-development coach and founder of The Happy Me Project, said: “Jen’s story shows us that no matter what we are going through, there is always a way through.
“Her tenacity and drive and total honesty in this book will have you realising your own potential.
“A brilliant book that will leave you inspired beyond belief.”Jen’s book Unflip is being published on Saturday May 7 and you can order it here: https://fuzzyflamingo.co.uk/product/unflip-by-jen-parker/
Jen is donating £1 of every paperback sold to the crucial NASS charity to help boost the fantastic work the organisation does.
And you can check out the charity by clicking on their website: https://nass.co.uk