GUIDING LIGHT IN THE DARK
When Hannah Soulsby walked into the NSW Women's Breast Centre at The Royal Hospital for Women earlier this year, she was in a state of fear and confusion.
The risk analyst had been diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer that had spread into her lymph nodes. Ahead lay the daunting road of bone scans, blood tests, and a double mastectomy, followed by almost five months of chemotherapy.
"To say it was overwhelming was an understatement," the 30-year-old says. Of great comfort to her during that turbulent time was the care of one of the Centre's two breast care nurses, Gill Neil.
Gill helped Hannah navigate her way through the labyrinth of treatment; she booked her in for appointments, explained anything she didn't understand in layman's terms, and was always there for her, either by her bedside, or on the phone as she underwent treatment.
"It was like having a friend in the hospital,” recalls Hannah, who is now cancer free. "She reduced my stress level so much. Whenever I was overwhelmed, my fiancé would say, 'I think you'd better call Gill.' Building a sense of trust with someone like that with all that medical knowledge was enormously beneficial to my recovery. I don't know how I'll ever be able to thank her."
The NSW Women’s Breast Centre at The Royal cares for more than 2,500 women like Hannah from all over NSW every year.
The team consists of specialist breast surgeons and plastic surgeons, geneticists, breast physicians, radiologists, radiographers, sonographers, breast care nurses and a nurse unit manager.
Nurse Unit Manager Fiona Kilponen says the service is one of only a few public, fully bulk billed Breast Centres in NSW and demand is increasing every year. Partly this is because of what she calls the 'Angelina Jolie' effect; the number of women taking preventative measures because of increased awareness of their risk of developing breast cancer as a result of genetic testing.
"Breast cancer can affect one in every eight Australian women," Fiona points out. "But it's also one of the most treatable cancers if it is caught early enough." If she could improve anything, it would be to expand the service to reach more Indigenous, Non-English speaking and rural women.
Hannah will be walking 350 km in 2019 to raise funds and awareness for The Royal's Breast Care Centre. You can support her on her journey here
The Royal Hospital for Women is a place of rich and raw emotions. Surely one of the most fraught wards is the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where a battery of miraculous machines - incubators, ventilators, drips and special lights - keep premature babies alive.