Young mum of two boys under three, Sarah, was at the end of her maternity leave when she decided to get a baseline test of her breasts last August. She had a family history of breast cancer, so she wanted to get a test so she knew what normal looked like for her.
After that first mammogram, an abnormality was discovered and a biopsy the same day confirmed it was breast cancer. Treatment for the initial diagnoses would normally involve a lumpectomy, but considering her family history, Sarah opted for a double mastectomy which found additional, more aggressive cancer cells.
It was in her first appointment with the breast surgeon that Sarah met Rikki Hopkins, her McGrath Breast Care Nurse.
"I didn’t really know anything about having someone like that to help me," Sarah says.
"She rang me and told me she would schedule and come to my appointments. Rikki helped make me feel confident in my decisions and made sure that I was coping as well."
Sarah says the support she received from Rikki was invaluable. Rikki acted as a medical sounding board but also offered a warmth that patients can find lacking in a hospital environment.
"Talking to her is different than talking to a doctor," Sarah says.
''It's not clinical with her, it's more personal. You can talk about emotional things with her, like the family, especially the boys.
"The decision to have a mastectomy was huge, I was so emotional about it, but it was the best decision considering a lumpectomy may not have got all the cancer and we might not have known about the others.
"Rikki was very supportive of my decision. I had a lot of questions that she had no hesitation in answering and provided me with valuable advice.”
Rikki also helped Sarah and her husband, Michael, decide how to discuss her diagnosis and treatment with their older son, Calvin, then 2 ½.
"Calvin said to me, 'Mummy your nipples are broken.' I said: 'Mate, yeah they are.' As I got closer to surgery I told him the doctor was going to take them away because they were broken and that Rikki thought that was fair.
"After surgery, Calvin said 'I want to see your nipples.' I told him they were gone now and when I showed him my scars he leaned in to kiss them better because they were sore." Sara said.
"Even really little kids know something is up, so being honest in a simplified way is very important,” said Rikki.
"Sarah did a beautiful job with all of that. The four of them shaved their hair together, so it was normal for Calvin. She found a way to engage the whole family which reduced the level of distress for her.”
Dry July fundraising means we can continue supporting the McGrath Foundation to fund more McGrath Breast Care Nurses to help people like Sarah.
About McGrath Breast Care Nurse – Rikki Hopkins
Rikki supports patients in the Cairns and Hinterland and Cape and Torres Health Services.
She has been a McGrath Breast Care Nurse since September 2017 and a Registered Nurse since 2004. She has worked in the speciality area of Oncology since 2010 and has a completed Graduate Certificate in Breast Cancer Nursing.
Rikki sees her role as an information provider, navigator and social support for her patients.
Sarah’s mastectomy and reconstruction involved multiple doctors, so Rikki liaised with all the teams involved to make it easier for Sarah.
She also introduced Sarah towards support available for mothers with cancer, through Mummy’s Wish and the Cancer Council.