Meet Karen. A McGrath Breast Cancer Nurse at the heart of an inspiring organisation, Karen has been listening, guiding and supporting patients and their loved ones since 2014- from Richmond Valley NSW to Ballina, Casino and surrounding areas.

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With a focus on empowering people with Breast Cancer, one of Karen’s biggest priorities is to ensure her patients have the knowledge they need to make informed decisions throughout treatments.

Here is Karen’s story:


What are some of the hardest parts about being a McGrath Breast Care Nurse?

Some people can struggle with the physical changes to their body, as well as the psychological impacts that can accompany major surgery. Although people are very aware their surgery could have saved their life, it’s also going to be a shock when they realise how much their body may have changed.

In particular, women who have had mastectomies can struggle with their self-confidence and struggle to pick up some of the activities they previously would have enjoyed. For example, post-mastectomy, some women struggle with the idea of taking their child to swimming lessons or to the beach because their bodies have changed so much. This can also have an impact on their kids, because they want to see their mum happy and enjoying the things they previously did together. Normalcy can also be a challenge – I tell my patients to get back to normal as quickly as possible as this will help the health of the whole family. Try to make the cancer fit into the life you already live, not the other way around.


Where do you see your patients?

I’m community-based so I see people with breast cancer wherever is convenient for them – I once had an initial meeting in an assistant principal’s office!


What can you tell us about exercise and recovery?

We recommend an appointment with an exercise physiologist to help people with breast cancer design a program which will work for them – if someone has loved swimming prior to their treatment, then it’s a great way for them to get some exercise and bring normality back into their lives! One of the local programs I recommend people with breast cancer attend is the YWCA Encore program (available in all states except Victoria), a land and water based exercise program designed for people who have had breast surgery. One of the benefits of exercising within a group is often these become another form of support and everyone goes for a coffee afterwards.


What features would you recommend in a swimsuit?

These ladies want to still look fabulous in their swimwear and most importantly, want to look like everyone else. Swimwear is such a personal and often daunting purchase so it’s even more important that they feel comfortable to assist with self-confidence.


From a practical perspective, a lot of ladies want to be able to wear their prosthesis in their swimsuit- having an internal pocket deep enough to hold this is such an important feature. When ladies are going through treatment they need to be very wary of being in the sun, so something with a bit more coverage, like a high neck style is ideal. Making a swimsuit that is easy to pull on and off and also do up will save a lot of stress, as often ladies have restricted mobility in the arms.

What should people look for when checking their breasts?

There’s no one big thing to look for – you’re not really looking for something in particular, you’re looking for something that’s not normal for you. Being breast aware means being aware of what’s normal for you and what’s not. For further info, this resource is great for people to consider when checking their breasts.