30 October 2015
October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Macmillan Breast Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Helen Francis at the University Hospital of North Midlands is supporting the initiative. She has run the Breast Care Nursing Service since May 1995 where the team has gone on to expand thanks to funding from Macmillan Cancer Support and the demand for their services.
There are several components to Helen’s role which make up her day-to-day work.
Helen says: 'As a Breast Care Nurse Specialist, and as part of the Breast Care Nursing Team, I provide comprehensive, highly specialist advice, support and counselling to meet the complex emotional, physical and psychological needs of women and men who fear they may have or already have a diagnosis of breast cancer.’’
Also, as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner this puts Helen in the unique position to be able to provide an additional source of care to that of the breast surgeons and oncologists when assessing and diagnosing patients referred from their GP with breast symptoms.
Helen and the team ensure the best quality of life and care for their patients from pre-diagnosis right the way through the breast cancer journey and survivorship with follow up visits and, along with colleague Julie Boulton, providing a nipple tattooing service.
Helen says that the best part of her job is knowing that she and her team make a positive difference to how patients and their families cope with their cancer diagnosis.
Helen adds: 'As a team we work very closely with the Macmillan Cancer and Information Support Centre, Disability Solutions, local support groups, psychology services, Penny Brohn Cancer Care, and Fresh Hair Wigs and Beauty Salon in the cancer centre.'
At the University Hospital of North Midlands they diagnose and provide care for approximately 630 breast cancer patients per year and Helen would always encourage people to be more aware of their bodies.
Helen says: 'Breast awareness is about encouraging women (and men) to get to know their own breasts. This is an important issue for all women in their mid-twenties and onwards, as learning how their breasts look and feel at different times will help women know what is normal for them and to recognise any irregular changes.'
Helen’s advice on checking your breasts is as follows:
- Know what is normal for you. Everyone’s breasts look and feel different. One woman's breasts will also look and feel different over time depending on the time of the month and the age of the woman.
- Look and feel. There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts for any changes. Try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly. You can do this in the bath or shower, when you use body lotion, or when you get dressed. There’s really no need to change your everyday routine. Just decide what you are comfortable with and what suits you best. Remember to check all parts of your breast, your armpits and up to your collarbone.
- Know what changes to look for. The appearance of your breasts is important. Any change in the outline or shape of the breast, especially those caused by arm movements, or by lifting the breasts, should be monitored and you can discuss this with your GP. There may also be some puckering or dimpling of the skin.
- Lumps. Any lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in one breast or armpit which seem to be different from the same part of the other breast and armpit. This is very important if new.
- Nipple change. Nipple discharge, new for you and not milky. Bleeding or moist reddish areas which don’t heal easily. Most importantly, when you check your breasts, try to be aware of any changes that are different for you.
- Report any changes without delay. Most breast changes are likely to be normal or due to a benign (not cancer) breast condition such as a cyst rather than being a sign of breast cancer. If you notice a change, go and see your GP as soon as you can.
- Attend for breast screening if aged 50 or over.
If you’re facing cancer it can be a confusing and difficult time, but you’re not alone. It’s important to know that there is support out there for you. If you have questions about cancer, visit www.macmillan.org.uk or call 0808 808 00 00.