Counsellor, educator, supporter, nurse

International Nurses Day on 12 May gives us an opportunity to highlight some of our wonderful nurses at Epworth.

In her role as specialist breast care nurse consultant at Epworth Eastern, Kathryn Wallace is counsellor, educator, nurse and friend. She’s there from diagnosis to treatment to recovery and says no two days are ever the same.

“Today, I was in the oncology unit visiting a patient who was starting chemotherapy, dropped into the wig salon to see a woman getting fitted for a wig for the first time and then saw a patient on the ward who had surgery a few days ago. I’ll be ringing another who has just received her pathology results and catch up with those booked in for surgery.”

A familiar face at Epworth since 2013, Kathryn says unlike other cancers, breast cancer is not linked to lifestyle behaviours.

“The impact is sometimes bigger because it does come out of the blue,” Kathryn said.

“There are a lot of myths about what causes breast cancer. After 29 years’ experience as a breast cancer nurse, I have seen women (and men) from every walk of life. There is no ‘typical’ archetype.

“Very few people carry the breast cancer gene (BRCA). For the vast majority, the only risk factor of breast cancer is being female and getting older.”

Kathryn explains her role as a ‘navigator’.

“The surgeon will call me when they have to give a patient a cancer diagnosis. I offer reassurance and help them navigate their way through what can be a very confronting and confusing time.

“When people are told they have breast cancer, the initial reaction is often one of shock. There are questions around ‘why’ or ‘how’, particularly if there is no family history. They also worry about how to tell family, friends, their children or elderly parents. Treatments and side effects are a major cause of angst. Dealing with surgery, scars, altered body image, perhaps losing hair through chemotherapy, dealing with early menopause or facing issues around fertility and family genetics are just a few of the fears women and their families face.

“I’m here to help with the emotional roller coaster, as well as the practical things, like linking women and their partners and families into supports and organisations that may help them along the way.

“Some days are harder than others. For the vast majority of women, breast cancer is a curable disease. Survival rates have increased to about 93% for those with early stage disease. However, there are those who lose their lives and when you’ve known them for some time and built up a relationship, it’s heartbreaking.

“I can honestly say that this is a most rewarding area of nursing to work in. Every day I feel privileged to meet and support people who are dealing with the trauma of a cancer diagnosis. It is quite humbling to be able to provide that level of care when people are at their most vulnerable.”

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