THE BEATING HEART OF HEALTHCARE
Annette Serisier feels a palpable sense of relief whenever she walks through the sliding glass doors of The Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick and sees that Helen Conlon is on duty.
“All I have to do is see Helen’s face, and it completely calms me down,” Annette says.
Helen is a McGrath Breast Care nurse, newly funded through The Royal Hospital for Women Foundation. Her job is to help Annette manage the physical and emotional turmoil of metastatic breast cancer. The incurable disease has spread to Annette’s lymph nodes, spine, stomach and liver. It means that for the last 18 months, Annette has had to deal with a barrage of different specialists, nurses and treatments – as well as overwhelming emotions.
Throughout it all has been the comfort and reassurance of Helen’s familiar face, and her calm guidance.
Helen supports more than 90 metastatic breast cancer patients across the Randwick Campus Hospitals: The Royal Hospital for Women, Prince of Wales Hospital and Prince of Wales Private Hospital. She is one of eight metastastic breast care nurses in Australia, and was prompted to take on the role after working in palliative care.
“I found it so rewarding dealing with the whole person, including their families. This service does make a difference to a woman’s quality of life regardless of how long they have to live,” she says.
Helen has seen Annette at her very worst. She has blurted out things to Helen that she couldn’t bring herself to say in front of her closest friends, such as “Why is this happening to me?” and “Am I going to survive?”
The physical side effects of her treatment – hormone therapy and oral chemotherapy - have been debilitating. Annette suffered acute fatigue and just last month she had a cardiac arrest.
“It’s hard to describe just how low you can feel sometimes – I ended up clinically depressed at one stage because of everything I was going through, but Helen could tell straight away something was wrong and made sure I got help,” Annette says.