Be aware; know your pair: McGrath Breast Care Nurses help educate people about breast cancer

Look, feel and learn: Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, so you need to know what's normal for you.
Look, feel and learn: Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, so you need to know what's normal for you.

You may not think that awareness of breast cancer is an issue. Women know to check their breasts regularly, and chances are you probably know someone who is living with breast cancer.

But education is still needed, from detection through to beyond treatment, and that’s where McGrath Breast Care Nurses can help.

“We think we’re breast aware but McGrath Foundation did a study and found that many people didn’t actually know what to look for,” McGrath Breast Care Nurse Jo Lovelock said. “Many thought breast cancer was indicated by a lump, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

Ms Lovelock said effective checks are more about being aware of the different signs and different kinds of breast cancer. “You need to know what’s normal for you – the look and feel, and how your breasts change during your cycle.”

While Ms Lovelock said that most noted differences are not breast cancer, it is still vital that women undertake regular checks. “Especially if you are aged 50 – 74, but around 700 women under 40 are diagnosed each year and you definitely shouldn’t stop checking after 74. If there’s a family history, check regularly from 40.”

Jo Lovelock: McGrath Breast Care Nurses not only support the patient and their family, but also work to educate their communities as well.

Jo Lovelock: McGrath Breast Care Nurses not only support the patient and their family, but also work to educate their communities as well.

If you do find something, go to your GP. There you will have a triple check: an examination, imaging and maybe a biopsy. The next step will be a referral to a breast surgeon or a breast clinic. Hopefully you will also get a referral to a McGrath Breast Care Nurse.

“Research shows that the earlier we are involved, the better the outcome as we are able to provide emotional and physical support, make sure people are educated and empowered, provide the right resources (not Dr Google!) and that they can go to the surgeon knowing that they have options,” Jo said.

The second step is a team meeting with people such as the oncologist, pathologist, and surgeon to come up with a treatment plan.

“Some people say ‘but my friend didn’t have that – is my breast cancer worse/better than hers?’. That’s where we can talk you through how everyone’s journey is different, and what yours might look like,” Jo said.

If you don’t get a referral to a McGrath Breast Care Nurse, you can self-refer: simply call or go online at mcgrathfoundation.com.au. If there isn’t a breast care nurse near you, you will still get support over the phone.

“Geographically, we’re not there yet but our goal is for everyone to be able to access a breast care nurse,” Jo said.

The money raised from Pink Up Your Town activities go directly to providing breast care nurses in areas of need. 

Jo said the breast care nurses provide free support from diagnosis for as long as needed.

“With so many people living so much longer with cancer, there are periods of high and low needs, and we will be there, especially for that 12 month screening after treatment as that can be a stressful time. We make sure that you know everything will be OK whatever the result. And we are always there down the track if needed too.

“We’re in slips, and will catch the fallout. We are the one constant through it all, which is really valuable should you feel lost in the system,” she said.

  • Pink Up Your Town activities are running in many places throughout Australia this October. Click here to learn more about the McGrath Foundation, or to donate.