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District enhances breast cancer care at Concord

Partnership with McGrath Foundation strengthens support for metastatic breast cancer patients.

Two women with masks on standing apart
SydneyConnect Image:  Metastatic Breast Care Nurse, Mary Sweeny

Mary Sweeney is dedicated to making a difference.

“I provide care, support and information for women with metastatic breast cancer from the time they receive their diagnosis and throughout their cancer treatment pathway,” she said.

As Sydney Local Health District’s first McGrath Metastatic Breast Care Nurse, Mary looks after patients whose cancer has spread from its origin in the breast to other parts of their body.

Mary joined the team at Concord Hospital last year, under a partnership with the McGrath Foundation, with the new position enhancing the hospital’s existing cancer services for patients and their families.

The McGrath Foundation fund McGrath Breast Care Nurses, like Mary, across the country.

The District is highlighting her role during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in Australia, with one in eight women at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85.

The Institute estimates 20,030 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer during 2021 – 19,866 women and 164 men.

A Clinical Nurse Consultant with more than 35 years’ of nursing experience – including at the Breast Cancer Institute at Westmead and as a McGrath Breast Care Nurse in Tasmania – Mary is now supporting local families experiencing metastatic breast cancer.

She’s a member of the Concord Cancer Centre’s multidisciplinary team and is involved in treatment planning, collaborating with Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology and Palliative Care departments to ensure continuity of care for patients with metastatic breast cancer.

She’s a vital link between patients, families and specialists, offering support face-to-face, via Telehealth appointments and over the phone.

“I’m able to answer patients’ questions about their symptoms, the management of their treatment and any concerns that may arise if their clinical needs change.

“I also put them in touch with other support services. My job satisfaction comes from making it a little easier for women and their families to navigate the health care system,” she said.

Her colleague Cole Deguchi, a Clinical Nurse Consultant in Breast Cancer Nursing, provides support for patients with early diagnosed breast cancer which is curable.

“I provide support for patients who may be having surgery or beginning a course of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. I aim to empower them with education. And, seeing how brave and strong these women are – that’s the most rewarding part of my job,” she said.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Mary and Cole have a key message about breast health – be breast aware.

“Women need to look, feel and learn about their breasts. If they know their breasts, and are familiar with what’s normal for them, it’ll be easier to tell if something has changed,” they said.

The McGrath Foundation, in collaboration with McGrath Breast Care Nurses, suggests women follow this simple process once a month:

Look – at the shape and appearance of your breasts and nipples in the mirror with your hands by your sides. Raise your arms above your head and have another look.

Feel – your breasts and nipples, looking for anything that isn’t normal for you. Feel from your collarbone to below the bar-line and under your armpit too.

Learn – what is normal for you. Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, so get to know your normal. See your doctor if you notice any changes.

McGrath Metastatic Breast Care Nurses and McGrath Breast Care Nurses provide support free of charge and  a doctor’s referral is not required.