Nurse Kimberley’s own diagnosis leads to care by McGrath Foundation nurse

St George Hospital nurse Kimberley O’Connor says learning she had breast cancer has brought her many new insights as a patient – including getting to know McGrath breast care nurse Kim Wright.

While scrubbing off her spray tan a week after her 27th birthday, Kimberley noticed a lump in her right breast.

“I’m not in the typical risk group for breast cancer and didn’t regularly check myself, but I had been scrubbing a little harder than I normally would and that’s when I felt a lump,” Ms O’Connor said.

The lump turned out to be a six centimetre tumour, a breast carcinoma that turned her world upside down. Three days after her diagnosis, Kimberley met with oncologist Dr Jodi Lynch and McGrath breast care nurse Kim Wright.

As an oncology nurse, Kimberley is no stranger to cancer, but said it is very different being on the other side.

“I normally see people on the cancer ward well after they have been through their initial diagnosis stage so a lot of the information was new to me,” Ms O’Connor said.

The soon-to-be bride, who was forced to cancel her September wedding date because of COVID-19, has now had to postpone her second date while she undergoes chemotherapy.

As part of her treatment and care at Sutherland Hospital, Ms O’Connor said the ongoing support from Kim, a specialised McGrath Breast Care Nurse, was invaluable.

“Kim is my fountain of knowledge, she has provided me with so many contacts, from where to buy a head scarf and wig to financial support programs,” Ms O’Connor said.

“It’s like having a friend with you, Kim is a warm, calming and sunny person who knows just what to say. She’s been to all my follow up appointments with the Oncologist and I really appreciate that she has time to sit with me and debrief after consultations and treatments. This whole process would be much more daunting without her by my side.”

Ms Wright, who has been a McGrath Breast Care Nurse for 10 years and a nurse for 30 years, said it is a privilege being able to provide support to breast cancer patients.

“We are able to guide patients through their treatment, which can be a very scary time because it’s the unknown. They don’t know how they are going to feel or what will happen, so we are there to answer their questions, provide information and support while they’re going through surgeries, having chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy,” Ms Wright said.

There are 154 McGrath breast care nurses nationally, with four working across SESLHD hospitals. In the lead up to cricket’s Pink Test, the McGrath Foundation, which funds the McGrath breast care nurses in our hospitals, turned the media spotlight on Kimberley and Kim, telling their story to highlight the McGrath breast care nurses’ important work and increase awareness about breast cancer.

“If I hadn’t scrubbed a little harder to remove the tan I might not have found the lump until it was larger and extremely obvious, so while I joke that a spray tan saved my life, I’m telling my story to encourage everyone to check their breasts regularly, even if you’re not in the at-risk age group, because if reading my story means others will check their breasts, then my job is done,” Ms O’Connor said.

Kimberly and Kim