Nursing support underpins the breast care service

Tuesday, 07 May, 2019

The role of the breast care nurse is to provide support and reassurance to patients and to advocate on their behalf throughout the course of their treatment. Ninety-six percent of all patients seen by the breast care team in Beaumont Hospital do not have breast cancer. But, for the four percent who do, a diagnosis of cancer is life-changing and throws up many emotional and practical issues.

The breast care nurses provide a link between physician and patient and are on hand to offer patient support and reassurance from the first appointment and throughout treatment. The patient can contact them by phone at any time during working hours to get advice, guidance and support on any physical or psychological issues they encounter during their treatment and beyond.

Speaking about their role, breast care nurse, Anne Staunton says, "A nurse is always present when the consultant gives the diagnosis of breast cancer. It's a highly emotionally charged time and the patient is often unable to absorb the detail regarding what lies ahead in their proposed treatment plan. In this case,
the nurse may need to go over it with them again in the hours and days following the consultation, in person or over the phone. We break it down into simple terms and describe the impact it may have on them. And naturally, patients have many concerns that need answers. These relate not only to their treatment but also to how they will manage the practicalities of everyday life while undergoing cancer treatment.

One of our main roles is to guide and advise women through the complexities of the many decisions they will have to make. For instance, future fertility concerns can be a big thing for younger women who have not yet started a family.

Egg harvesting is available. But in general, the time available between diagnosis and start of treatment leaves only a small window of opportunity for this to happen. Informed decisions need to be arrived at quickly to make it possible to arrange.

Following surgery, the patient's post-operative histology results are discussed at the multidisciplinary meeting. At this point it's determined whether they need chemotherapy and/or radio-therapy. We co-ordinate those appointments, making sure they are done within the recommended time frame, and then we arrange to see them three months later. Following treatment, if they are home and feel another lump or have any other issues, they can call us. They know we'll listen and if we feel it's something that needs to be seen we'll schedule them for the next clinic. They know they won't have to wait.

We also help to co-ordinate breast reconstruction for patients who, decide not to opt for immediate reconstruction at time of surgery. Not all patients want to move straight to reconstruction. For some, it's just too much surgery at the one time. It can be years later before they are ready but whenever that is, they can call us and we'll make an appointment for them to start the process", she finished.

Along with providing practical and emotional support, the breast care nurses are trained to carry out nipple-tattooing, or micro-pigmentation, which is the final stage in the breast reconstruction process.

Anne Staunton believes, "the move to the new Clinic will provide a calm and streamlined environment which in turn will improve the way in which we are able to give support and guidance to patients. It can't some soon enough".

Breast Care Nurses (l to r) Anne Staunton, Geraldine Feehan, Grainne Sheeran and Susan Geraghty