SPECIAL CARE: Cancer patient Meaghan Vosz (left) with specialist breast care nurse Monica Hogan.
SPECIAL CARE: Cancer patient Meaghan Vosz (left) with specialist breast care nurse Monica Hogan.

Watching over cancer patients

AFTER a cancer diagnosis, most of us would want someone to talk to. Someone who could explain what's happening, interpret medical language, and even go along with us to appointments.

For people diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a person in the Northern Rivers who offers such services.

Specialist breast care nurse Monica Hogan is a Lismore-based registered nurse who has undergone advanced training in caring for people with breast cancer.

It's mostly women - one in eight women will be diagnosed by the age of 85 - but one in a hundred men will be, too. Monica is there for all of them.

"I met Monica within days of being diagnosed, back in February," grateful client Meaghan Vosz of North Lismore told The Echo.

"She came along with me on my first visit to the surgeon. I had been terrified - it was like being in a weird movie to walk in there, but Monica was so calm and real, giving me all the information I needed."

As Meaghan agonised over what sort of surgery to have - a wide local incision (that used to be called a lumpectomy) or removal of the breast (mastectomy), Monica called her up.

"Can I have a cup of tea with you?" Monica asked Meaghan.

"It was so perfectly informal, and just what I needed," Meaghan recalled.

"When you're making a decision about what surgery you're going to have, on a part of your body that identifies you as a woman, it's incredibly helpful to have Monica come along with her suitcase full of false breasts, bras and prostheses, and all the information that will actually show you the choices that you have."

Monica again comforted Meaghan after she had surgery at St Vincent's Hospital. "Since then, I've been attending the wound clinic every week," Meaghan said. "I've never had to fill in any forms, or show my Medicare card because Monica organised all the paperwork for me from the start."

Monica told The Echo it's all about team work.

"We have a multi-disciplinary team meeting every week, with surgeons, oncologists, radiotherapists, nurses and GPs," Monica said.

"This was already set up before we opened the North Coast Cancer Institute oncology unit in Lismore in June 2010. Before then, some patients would choose to have surgery rather than radiotherapy because they had to go to Brisbane for six weeks at a time for radiotherapy.

"Now it can all be done in Lismore."

Monica said her role was to provide continuity of care, ongoing support and information to the person with breast cancer and their family and carers.

"It's really just such a privilege to be able to see these people, often in their own homes," Monica said

"After their diagnosis, their first appointment starts in the morning at the radiology clinic, and it's a long day that ends up in hospital and usually an overnight stay.

"It can be a bit of a rollercoaster, and I always hope I can meet the person before this, so I can go along and help them."

As well as being a source of information and a practical helper, Monica can also refer people to support groups, counsellors, exercise classes and a wide range of resources across the Northern Rivers.

Breast care nurse positions in rural and regional Australia are funded by the Jane McGrath Foundation, established in 2002 by Jane and her husband, Australian fast-bowler Glenn McGrath.

Monica Hogan can be contacted on 6620 7664.

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