Jo Lovelock was working as a nurse/midwife at The Bays Hospital when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, contact with breast cancer nurse services was limited to a one-hour consultation at surgery, so Jo decided to pursue further education to continue the service in 2004 and become a breast cancer care nurse herself.
After meeting cricketing great Glenn McGrath, who founded the McGrath Foundation with his wife, Jane, to provide breast cancer support, Jo advocated for The Bays Hospital to work with the McGrath Foundation in order to adapt her role into a McGrath Breast Care Nurse. After receiving the good news that the application was successful, Jo completed her graduate certificate in breast cancer nursing and has been working as McGrath Breast Care Nurse since 2014. It was a move that meant that Jo could now work to support all people with a breast cancer diagnosis, regardless of whether they were in the public or private system.
This also meant that The Bays Hospital became a new location for breast care nurses. The McGrath Foundation works with all state and territory health departments as well as nominated health services to determine locations for its nursing team’s services.
McGrath Breast Care Nurses are healthcare professionals who provide physical, emotional and psychosocial support to people with breast cancer and their families. It’s also a free service that doesn’t require a referral. There are 132 breast care nurses across Australia; their roles include attending medical appointments, providing medical support, acting as a point of contact between a patient and their medical team, and decoding medical jargon. Evidence suggests that early access to a breast care nurse improves the experience and outcomes of a person with breast cancer immensely.
“Many people diagnosed on the Peninsula will have several specialists and hospitals to attend, and I think of myself as an educator and translator to enable people to understand the nuances of their diagnosis,” said Jo. “This means people are empowered to make informed decisions about their treatment. It’s also so rewarding knowing that you can make a difference to people who are going through a really difficult time.”
Her most memorable experience so far was attending the Pink Test in Sydney earlier this year with one of her patients, Amber, while one of her most rewarding moments was being honoured with the opportunity to speak at the funeral of a patient she’d cared for over a long period.
“I feel strongly about empowering, educating and supporting my patients. I often say that being a McGrath Breast Care Nurse who has had breast cancer is a little like being a midwife who has had a baby — it doesn’t make you a better nurse but it does give you another perspective.”
While Jo said the medical care she received during her own breast cancer experience was excellent, there was little psychosocial care available on the Peninsula. However, the help she received from a small group of young women who gathered to support each other prompted Jo and her breast care nurse Sue to co-found Breast Intentions in 2004 and the Mornington Peninsula Women’s Cancer Support Group in 2011 for all women dealing with all types of cancer.
In 2009, Jo attended an international conference in Brisbane called Reach to Recovery, a global network that runs events for people who have had breast cancer, their health professionals, and their families. Jo has moved forward to volunteer as a nurse overseas in developing countries and has attended and presented at the conference in Taiwan, Paris, South Africa and Beijing. This year she and her daughter, Katie, are co-facilitating a workshop for cancer nurses and presenting at Reach to Recovery in Prague.
“I honestly love my job and the opportunities it has presented. Every day I make a difference to people with breast cancer and their families.”
To volunteer or fundraise for the McGrath Foundation, visit www.mcgrathfoundation.com.au; to ask about volunteer positions at The Bays Hospital, phone 5975 2009; to join Breast Intentions, call 0429 929 071. Peninsula McGrath Breast Care Nurses can be contacted on 0477 770 360.