Today is International Nurses Day and, to mark the occasion, we’re celebrating our breast care nurses. By providing crucial support and trusted information to anyone affected by breast cancer, they’re always with you, the whole way through. And throughout the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve made sure our life-changing care hasn’t been interrupted, running our vital Helpline remotely for the first time. These are their stories.
Jane Murphy – Senior Clinical Nurse Specialist
Not having the face-to-face support of colleagues has been a challenge over the past year. Setting up a workstation and adapting the home environment for full-time working has also been difficult. I've also struggled with keeping up to date with the pandemic and the impact on breast cancer services as well as wider health service issues.
Being able to continue a service has been rewarding, however. There was very little impact on our availability (a few hours less at the beginning of the pandemic while we all got familiar with home working). I enjoyed seeing how the team came together and worked so hard to make sure we could continue to support people affected by breast cancer.
What I'm looking forward to now is being able to meet up with family and friends as lockdown is lifted – especially my new baby granddaughter who was born during lockdown.
Louise Grimsdell – Clinical Nurse Specialist
Over the past 12 months we have had to adapt from working in the office as a team to working at home having set up the Helpline remotely for the first time.
During this time, we have seen an increase in callers who are feeling much more anxious and isolated due to limited face-to-face hospital appointments, with treatments such as immediate reconstruction put on hold in some areas. People who may be at risk of developing breast cancer due to an altered gene such as BRCA have also experienced delays to risk-reducing surgery.
Even so, one of the most rewarding parts of this year has been continuing to support people affected by breast cancer.
Our online support services such as Moving Forward Online, where we host Ask Our Nurses Q&A live sessions for people who have come to the end of their hospital-based treatment, has been enjoyable. We also increased our Facebook and Instagram broadcasts to reach more people, addressing current topics such as the Covid vaccines.
Another rewarding part of my job is the support I have got from my team, and that has certainly made working remotely a lot easier.
Now, I am looking forward to being able to connect with friends and family, enjoying longer sunnier days – hopefully – and keeping my fingers crossed for a summer break in the UK.
Rachel Rawson – Associate Director, Nursing
There have been many challenges over the past year, from moving the Helpline and Ask Our Nurse services home to supporting our many callers in a time of extreme anxiety and change.
People affected by breast cancer have not only had to endure being away from loved ones but also changes to treatment plans, difficulties accessing teams, and more recently access to vaccines and the ever-changing rhetoric that has surrounded the safety of the vaccines.
Missing my incredible colleagues for face-to-face debriefs and general chat has been really challenging and I look forward to when we can be together in person again. I feel really proud of the team. We have been resilient, open to huge changes, have made things happen in a day that would usually have taken months of planning and adapted to working from home.
As things ease, I am looking forward to seeing friends and family, as well as going to Cornwall and jumping in the sea.
Carolyn Rogers – Senior Clinical Nurse Specialist
As a team we had to adapt without any notice to working remotely. We managed to do this without too many hiccups apart from some IT challenges. Calls and submitted enquiries were initially about treatment changes and longer waits, but more recently have been about vaccines and prioritising these, and if treatment would have any impact. We are also noticing more calls about anxiety and mental health issues surrounding diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.
Being able to continue to support people affected by breast cancer despite working remotely has been very rewarding. People often express their gratitude at having someone to talk to when the NHS is so overstretched, and staff are working in different ways during the pandemic. Recording teaching sessions with previously unused technology has been a challenge, but we have all adapted to this meaning we can still reach people who need our services.
I am looking forward to seeing the sun and getting out with friends and family once more. We are a close team and so it will also be great to see colleagues face to face and catch up properly with what’s going on in everyone’s lives.
Grete Brauten-Smith – Clinical Nurse Specialist
For me, as a Clinical Nurse Specialist for younger women, I found it difficult that we had to suspend our very successful face-to-face services especially for younger women. Luckily, we worked hard and had focus groups with younger women to set up information and support services online for this age group. It’s great to see the women connecting with each other.
Another big challenge for me has been not seeing my close colleagues. We are a great nursing team and have worked hard to be there for each other as lots of our work can be very emotional supporting people with breast cancer.
However, it has really surprised me how adaptable us nurses can be. We now run support events online, we speak to people calling our Helpline from our own home. This means we can still be there for people with breast cancer. Being young and getting a breast cancer diagnosis is often extremely difficult, but it feels good that we can be there for them and help them connect and share experiences.
I most look forward to having more hugs from friends and family and getting back to some kind of normality. I can’t wait to travel to see the sea while walking in the sunshine on the South Downs.
Addie Mitchell – Clinical Nurse Specialist
In the last year, calls to the Helpline and Ask Our Nurses emails have vastly increased. Calls tend to be longer and are more to do with emotion and anxiety, probably due to lockdown and feeling isolated. Also, not having access to GPs or specialist services at the hospital and having treatment curtailed due to the pandemic.
I’ve missed seeing colleagues face to face and easy access to their expertise, resulting in feelings of isolation. IT glitches during meetings and difficulties in engaging with audiences have proved difficult too. Also, the social aspect of not being able to meet for a drink after work to ‘switch off’ is a big loss.
However, I have gained the ability to better concentrate with no distractions and faster travel times to work! It’s also been useful to have access to meetings and conferences talking with people from anywhere in the world.
What I'm most looking forward to is being able to see and hug my friends, flying away somewhere warm, and having the freedom to go to a restaurant/pub/cinema!
No matter how breast cancer affects you, our nurses are always here. Their commitment and dedication to supporting people affected by this disease despite the challenges they’ve faced has been truly inspiring. Our nurses are always with you, and we’re always with them too.
If you would like to help us with our work, please consider sponsoring a nurse. Your regular donations will keep our helpline running and allow our fantastic team to provide essential care and support to people who need it.