Sisters help women take on the world

Ruth Peterson | September 14, 2020

A performing arts student is proof that an invisible illness does not need to be a barrier to achieving your dreams.

Gina and Natalie on a beach
Helping women take on the world together: Gina and Natalie

Gina Jovanovic, who is studying a Performing Arts foundation degree at Bradford College, has joined forces with her sister Natalie to set up Chronic Pain Support Group Bradford, for women affected by chronic pain.

Building community of strong women

After being diagnosed with endometriosis two years ago, Gina says she wants to help others lead full and happy lives. She said: “We’re currently building our community of strong women who will hopefully feel that this platform allows them to share their stories and experiences. We hope to help others find support and like-minded individuals, who can find lots of support and resources through our page.

“Let’s be there for each other, then take on the world.”

Endometriosis affects around 1.5million women in the UK and can cause heavy or painful periods, fatigue and fertility issues among other symptoms. It can affect women of any age. Gina said: “It feels like an attack on my womanhood.”

Gina’s sister Natalie was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, after suffering with chronic back pain since she was a teenager. She is also impacted by spinal disc bulges and fluid on her neck.

“My sister is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met”

Gina said: “My sister was quite a sporty child, but her condition affected her in such a way that she had to transform her entire life. She is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met and that’s given me the inspiration to cope with my own situation.”

Among the aims of the group is to encourage women to visit their GPs, and gain diagnoses and support to live with their conditions. However, Gina also wants to challenge misconceptions within some areas of medicine around conditions and illnesses that impact females. She said: “Some people believe it’s all down to women’s hysteria.

“For example, women are less likely to be given painkillers after surgery if they complain of pain.

These conditions do limit a lot of our lives, yet we are often told: “Here, take some paracetamols and carry on using a hot water bottle if that works for you.

“If we can bring awareness to other people, that’s all we can ask for.”

So far meetings have been held via Zoom, due to restrictions surrounding covid-19, however they hope to organise events and coffee mornings when possible in the future. The group discusses a variety of topics and offers a safe space for women to discuss and share their experiences, tips and support.

Natalie and Georgina think it’s important to take inspiration from figures in the public eye who have also been successful while living with chronic pain, including actress Selma Blair and singer Lady Gaga.

“This will not affect my studies”

While Gina’s foundation degree course can be physically demanding, she says her condition will not affect her studies. She said: “I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 12. I love drama and performing.

“A lot of the time it’s about getting through the day and hoping I can manage it. However, I’m really lucky my tutor Tom Aldersley is so supportive.”

The college has also made special arrangements for her, including support with parking. Gina said: “I know I can go to anybody and say I’m having a bad day and they put in place any support they can.”

Self care is key

Alongside her degree, Gina is also hoping to become a personal trainer. She said: “It’s really surprising how much hydration and nutrition can help you. My sister was recommended to do yoga to help her with her condition.”

Gina also believes self care is a key part of living with chronic conditions. She said: “We need to be there for each other but you also need to be there for yourself and value yourself.

“I believe if you’ve got the support and people around you who understand, there’s no reason why you can’t do what you want. This is also why it’s important to challenge medical professionals when you feel unheard and stand up for yourself when people don’t take you seriously.”

About Chronic Pain Support Group

You can follow Chronic Pain Support Group on their Instagram page @CPSGBRAD or their Facebook page, Chronic Pain Support Group Bradford.

If you would like to find out more, you can email CPSG.20@gmail.com

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