Women in Worcestershire with secondary breast cancer are benefiting from a specialist nurse who helps them through the complex journey of treatments and emotions.
Sue Sharp is employed by St Richard’s Hospice to work in partnership with Worcestershire Royal Hospital. (WRH)
Sue can often be involved from the first meeting when a woman is given the diagnosis of secondary breast cancer and says people react very differently.
“Patients are told very honestly that the cancer will never go away totally but there are treatments that can be offered to try and shrink or contain it and stop it spreading to other areas and improve symptoms so they are not getting any pain. “
“Some people go on to live for many years. For example, if someone has cancer which has spread to the bones and they have treatment that contains it, improves the symptoms and they are not getting pain then they can go to work, look after the children and go on holiday if that’s what they want. At some point the cancer may get worse again, and they are offered more treatment. “
“Often a first major worry for someone is how they will pay the bills and mortgage or concerns their employer will make them redundant. I can help them through that maze by connecting them to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau worker at St Richard’s, who helps with issues on finance and benefits. I also link them with the hospice physiotherapists and occupational therapists, our family support team for counselling and social work and any other services which I think will benefit them.”
Sue meets patients as appropriate with coronavirus restriction and in non-covid times, on wards in the Worcester Royal and also as outpatients there. “I introduce myself and talk about my role and start getting to know them and their needs so I can be a key link. I think that’s the main difference for patients since I have taken on the role. Previously at diagnosis appointments they wouldn’t have had a nurse specialist with them when they hear results. Now they can phone me and say, ‘I can’t remember a word of what I was told’ and I can talk them through it. They now have one person they can contact rather than not knowing where to start. I might not always have the answers but I will try and find someone who might. “
“Although their illness is life-limiting the time scales over which we will see patients can be very wide. We might see a patient treated for primary breast cancer, return with secondary cancer six months later, and others 15 or 20 years down the line. Treatments have advanced so much there is often something to offer. “
Sue says lots of women want advice on issues such as weight gain, exercise, menopausal symptoms and nutrition, all of which she, or other hospice team members, are able to help with.
The Ivy Group runs once a year for six monthly sessions, for women known to St Richard’s who are living with secondary breast cancer.