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  • How books helped a breast cancer nurse keep stress under control

    Author: Nicole Madigan

As a McGrath Metastatic Breast Care Nurse, Jenny Macindoe provides care to people who have been diagnosed with advanced or metastatic disease – the stage of cancer that is incurable, having spread beyond the primary tumour site to other parts of the body.

There’s no typical for Ms Macindoe, and in each day can change in the space of a phone call.

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“On clinic days I have multidisciplinary team meetings in the morning where we discuss complex patients and I go through the clinic list to work out who the priorities are.

“I will also sit with new referrals and talk through their diagnosis and supportive care screening, so they understand what’s happening and what’s next.”

Having held both an early breast cancer and a metastatic breast care nurse role, Ms Macindoe says the latter is a different kind of stressful.

“A lot of people are living quite well with their diagnosis, but there is still sadness.”

Such sadness can take a toll on the nurses whose job it is to take care of the women and men who are experiencing such this complex and emotionally taxing time of their lives.

“You have to look after yourself,” she says.

“You can’t carry that level of sadness all the time and keep going every day.

“I’ve had many years’ experience as a breast care nurse before coming to this role. I had to say to myself, you can’t change the long-term outcomes, but you can make a huge difference to the patient and their family throughout the disease and the rest of their lives.”

An avid reader since she was a child, Ms Macindoe now turns to books to escape the day-to-day stresses of her role.

“I started reading when I was ten, I read Anne of Green Gables. I grew up in a family of avid readers. I still have the copy of Anne of Green Gables and some other special books I got from my grandmother. I have had them rebound in green leather, so they are very special to our family.

“My family has been trying to get me to go to audio books, but I just like the feel of a book in my hands, the feel of the pages. I like curling up in bed with a soft covered book. I’ve been reading for a long time.”

These days, Ms Macindoe says the only time she feels truly detached from the world is when she’s doing gardening or absorbed in a book.

“I just find reaching for a book, you step into that book, you go to where that book takes you.

“Growing up in the country we were at home a lot, we learned to be content in our world. I could escape in books.

“The joy of reading is it really takes you to another place more than anything else. I feel like it lifts me out and plonks me wherever the story is. It’s the one place where my brain just tunes out. I sometimes walk around with the book in my hands even when I’m cooking dinner.

“Wherever I’ve lived I’ve always been a library member and always took the kids to the library once a week when they were little.”

More than just an enjoyable hobby, reading has been proven to improve mental health and wellbeing.

According to Bibliotherapist and psychotherapist, Germaine Leece, research from the University of Sussex found that reading could reduce stress levels by 68 per cent, working more effectively than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea.

“Subjects only had to read for six minutes to slow down their heart rates and ease muscle tension,” she says.

Bibliotherapy is the use of reading as therapy.

“Put simply, a bibliotherapist helps people find books that will expand their emotional experience.

“I have seen quite a few doctors and nurses for bibliotherapy sessions. They see so much human suffering yet are trained to keep their emotions in check and be clinical and calm.

“Those emotions still need to be witnessed and processed, however, and here is where reading can help.

“One nurse described feeling safe reading books that made her cry, as this was a way to process the emotion she couldn’t show at work.

“Another liked reading books that had a medical focus as they helped normalise her own experiences with patients and the struggle to be supportive but not get too emotionally involved.

“Another nurse told me how a group of nurses started discussing the books they were reading during their break times as a way to leave the stresses of work behind.

“These conversations were so restorative that they started a book club at lunchtimes, and it became a way for them to get to know each other outside of nursing, while still at work.”

As an ambassador for Australia Reads, Ms Leece is encouraging readers and non-readers alike to get behind Australian Reading Hour on September 14, giving the latter a group the opportunity to find out just how beneficial reading can be.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.