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Helping you through breast cancer treatment

Guest blog: Q&A with helpline nurse at Breast Cancer Now

Guest blog: Q&A with helpline nurse at Breast Cancer Now

Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s first comprehensive breast cancer charity, combining world-class research and life-changing care to build a complete view of breast cancer and make faster progress for everyone affected. Steered by research and powered by care, Breast Cancer Now’s ambition is that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live and be supported to live well. Launched in October 2019, the charity was created by the merger of specialist support and information charity Breast Cancer Care and leading research charity Breast Cancer Now.

Two of the brilliant resources on offer from Breast Cancer Now for those going through breast cancer, is the availability of a free helpline and email service. These are manned by experienced breast care nurses and trained staff who have a personal or work-related experience of breast cancer. And this week’s guest blog is a Q&A with one of their amazing nurses, Jane. Hopefully this will give you an idea of how they can help you …

Can you introduce yourself.

Jane, BCN nurse

I’m Jane Murphy, a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity. I manage and work on our Helpline, providing information and support to people affected by breast cancer or with breast health concerns. Like most of my colleagues who work on the charity’s Helpline, I used to work in the NHS. I was a chemotherapy nurse for nine years, treating and supporting patients with bowel and breast cancer and I found this role very rewarding. I then wanted a role that would allow me to spend even more time answering questions and providing support so began working on a cancer helpline around fifteen years ago, before starting at Breast Cancer Care in 2009. Following Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now merging in 2019 we are known as Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity.

What does your role involve?

I manage the day-to-day running of Breast Cancer Now’s confidential, free Helpline (0808 800 6000) and Ask Our Nurses email service, helping to co-ordinate the team, ensuring everyone who wants to reach us is able to and that we can respond to those who need our help. It’s really important the team is kept up to date with the latest clinical information and there are a range of ways I make sure we get to know all about the latest developments in diagnosis, treatment and support of breast cancer. This includes arranging two training days a year for the Helpline staff and sharing regular monthly updates of news and research.

What is the process when someone phones the Helpline with a question?

When someone calls, they will hear a welcome message and then be put through to one of our experienced breast care nurses or trained staff. Usually people will get through straight away, but at busy times, there may be a short wait. There’s an option to leave a voicemail and we’ll phone back as soon as possible. Out of hours people can also leave a voicemail and we’ll phone back when we’re next open, usually first thing in the morning. We offer information and the chance to talk openly in a safe and confidential space. There is no time limit, and people can call with a specific query about breast cancer or breast health, or they may just want to talk things through and find more support. Often people can worry about being a burden to family and friends so may not have reached out to speak to anyone.

As well as providing answers during the call, we often follow up by sending a selection of our relevant information booklets. This can be really useful for our callers as it means they can go over the information we provided again in their own time.

We hope that after calling the Helpline our callers feel more informed, more confident about making decisions and more supported with what they are going through.

What do people phone you about? And what would you say is the most common question?

People call the Helpline about a really wide range of topics. Questions about treatment are the most common. For example, someone might ask about making decisions about treatment, which for breast cancer commonly includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and long-term hormone therapies. Many people ask about the possible side effects of treatment, which can be short term, like nausea, or long-term, such as fatigue and intimacy issues.

Other calls we receive from people who’ve had a diagnosis can be about clinical trials, waiting for test results, what to expect at appointments and pain or symptom control.

We also get lots of calls from people who don’t have breast cancer and are worried about their risk of developing the disease or who have noticed an unusual breast change and are not sure what to do.

Is there any sort of criteria that someone needs to meet in order to call you?

No – anyone is welcome to pick up the phone and call us about breast cancer or breast health. Calls are free from all UK landlines and mobiles. We have access to a telephone interpreting service, in over 240 languages, and the Next Generation Text service which helps deaf, speech-impaired, and hearing people talk to each other over the phone.

Can you take calls from a family member?

Yes, we regularly take calls from friends and family of someone who has had a breast cancer diagnosis. They may be worried and want to know how best to provide support, or would like to know more about the potential effects of treatment. They also may be in need of support themselves. We can talk all this through.

Do you have any advice for someone who is worried about something but reluctant to call?

We are here if you need to talk – please don’t feel you need to face everything alone.

On the Helpline we hear from people expressing a range of different emotions, so we want to reassure anyone who may be worried about getting upset or distressed when speaking to us that it doesn’t need to stop them calling.

It can feel daunting speaking about what are often really personal issues, so some people prefer to call when we are closed and leave a message knowing we’ll then ring back the next working day.

We also understand that it can sometimes be difficult to talk to someone about concerns, or that some people would rather receive information in writing, so emailing our nurses may be preferred. Simply email any question – big or small – to our confidential Ask Our Nurses service. We aim to answer emails within three working days but we often respond much sooner than this.

What other support does Breast Cancer Now offer?

Along with our publications I mentioned earlier, Breast Cancer Now offers many different free support services. For example, the charity runs face-to-face services across the UK, including specialist support for younger women with breast cancer and those living with secondary breast cancer, which is incurable. Our Moving Forward courses, delivered in partnership with NHS hospitals, and our Becca app both help people adapt to life after breast cancer – which for many can be the most difficult part of breast cancer.

We also offer peer support services including the Forum, where people can find a friendly online community, and Someone Like Me, which arranges for one of our trained volunteers who’ve had a personal experience of breast cancer to support someone by email or telephone based on their specific needs and concerns.

For support and information call Breast Cancer Now’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

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