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More breast care nurses needed in rural communities to help those who need it most

Photo: Health Times
As breast cancer diagnosis continues to rise, so too does the need for specialised breast care nurses.

Current research suggests there is a gap of around 80 nurses already, which is only set to increase along with Australia’s ageing population, advances in treatments and greater exposure to breast cancer risk factors.

Since 2005, McGrath Breast Care Nurses have been travelling to remote and regional communities, to assist women with breast cancer, their families and their carers.

“A McGrath Breast Care Nurse is a specialised, registered nurse who acts as a patient advocate,” says Jane Mahony, McGrath Foundation Nursing Program Director

“Their unique role sees them provide timely care and referral services to people experiencing breast cancer, their families and carers.”
Inspired by the Jane McGrath’s experience with a dedicated breast care nurse, the foundation is dedicated to to raising enough money to place breast care nurses in the communities that need them the most, for free.

“Specifically, when it comes to our breast care nurse programme we’re focussed on growing the network of McGrath Breast Care Nurses we have across Australia,” says Ms Mahony.

“While we’re extremely proud of the work we’ve done, we’re still a long way from meeting the growing need.”

Support from a McGrath Breast Care Nurse is free and people don’t require a doctor’s referral to get access.

“In a nutshell McGrath Breast Care Nurses help individuals and their families affected by breast cancer by providing invaluable physical, psychological and emotional support, from the time of diagnosis and throughout treatment,” says Ms Mahony.

Duties vary, and depend on whether the patient has early, advanced or metastatic breast cancer. 

“The key stages a breast care nurse provides support for includes screening, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, relapse and treatment and metastatic.

“The types of support an early breast cancer patient receives starts right from diagnosis including counselling, post diagnosis support, referral and access to psychosocial supports, help with treatment options and making informed decisions.

“On the treatment side this can include help with managing side effects, reconstructive surgery, lymphedema, wound care and overall care coordination.

“To put it more informally our McGrath Breast Care Nurses form relationships with their patients that are meaningful and important.

“They provide calm and consistency in times of great stress.”

There are currently 119 McGrath Breast Care Nurses in communities across Australia, and about 70 per cent of these are stationed in regional and rural areas.

“These breast care nurses have supported over 60,000 individuals and their families since 2005.

“The McGrath Foundation’s vision is for every person in Australia experiencing breast cancer to have access to a breast care nurse no matter where they live or their financial situation.

“In the beginning much of the focus was on ensuring access in regional areas.

“While currently just over 70 per cent of our McGrath Breast Care Nurses are in regional and rural areas, there is a growing need for nurses in urban areas.”

Many of the foundation’s regional breast care nurses support patients over large geographic areas.

“For example, we recently placed our second McGrath Breast Care Nurse in Cairns to support people in Far North Queensland who have breast cancer.

“Our McGrath Breast Care Nurse in this role travels to visit patients from Cairns right up to Cape York and all of the areas in between.

“Together with our other Cairns based McGrath Breast Care Nurse, they support an area spanning over 380,000 km2 including Cardwell, Normanton and Torres Strait Islands.”

There is also one dedicated ‘flying McGrath Breast Care Nurse’ with the Royal Flying Doctors (RFDS).

“She holds clinics in an aircraft hangar at the RFDS base next door to Broken Hill airport and uses the plane regularly to help isolated outback women (and men) at clinics at eighteen remote locations across far west NSW, northern Adelaide and South-West Queensland.”

Research shows that people with breast cancer in remote areas have poorer outcomes than their metro counterparts, due to later diagnosis and limited access to cancer screening and treatment services.

“It’s not uncommon to hear stories of women on the land doing 1600 km round trips every three weeks for months for treatment in larger centres, while also trying to run their families, businesses or properties.

“This adds enormous logistical and financial pressure on top of what is already a very stressful time.

“Essentially those in the rural and regional areas often have less access to the services that are available in larger cancer treatment centres.”

It costs around $140,000 to fund one McGrath Breast Care Nurse full time for a year.

“The McGrath Foundation relies on the support we receive from all over Australia – including individuals, communities, corporate partners and government.

“They help by donating, hosting or attending events, or purchasing McGrath Foundation products, which helps us continue Jane’s legacy and achieve our mission.”

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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 (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.