“The charity’s nurses have been here for me from day one.”

As a charity we are incredibly proud to fund two nurses who are dedicated to supporting people through their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

People like Ann McBrien from Belfast, who has experienced breast cancer for almost a decade.

Breast cancer has had a major impact on Ann’s life, but she remains positive and extremely thankful for the care and treatment she has received and continues to receive, including from the nurses who are funded by Friends of the Cancer Centre.  This is Ann’s story.

“I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer after my first mammogram in 2013.  My treatment included surgery and radiotherapy, followed by hormone therapy for five years. Over those five years, I was under the care of a breast cancer team comprising of surgeons, oncologists, breast care nurses and Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Breast Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Elaine Shaw.  Elaine was the first Clinical Nurse Specialist funded by the charity in 2011 as part of an improvement plan to enhance breast cancer services at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre. Over the five years of my care, Elaine performed my nurse-led reviews and was always at the end of the phone to help answer concerns and queries.

“After five years of treatment, I was discharged from cancer services and assumed cured. However, just two months later I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.  My breast cancer had spread to both my lungs and at this stage was now incurable. This was a real shock given that my breast cancer had been detected early through screening, I had completed my planned five years of hormone treatment and had done everything in my power to rebuild a healthy lifestyle with exercise, nutrition, etc.  At this stage I needed even more specialist support, as my cancer was now incurable and I was dependent on ongoing systemic cancer treatments to keep me alive.  These specialised cancer treatments are complex and have significant side effects, which need to be managed to ensure a reasonable quality of life. In addition to the physical side effects, there is also the emotional strain of living with a disease with a limited life expectancy. Knowing that there is ongoing research and service improvements in cancer care is really important, as it gives me hope for a longer and better quality of life than the current life expectancy statistics, which point to an average of two to three years.

“I also found it important to find other people living with secondary breast cancer who understood the impact it has on your life.  I joined a secondary breast cancer group called Beaconbridge, which was established by Breast Cancer Now and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.  As well as being a great source of support and friendship, the group also worked with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Breast Cancer Now to develop an improvement plan specifically for secondary breast cancer services in Northern Ireland. One of the key elements of the improvement plan was to recruit a secondary breast cancer nurse.  However, funding this post proved difficult until Friends of the Cancer Centre stepped up and provided the money for this post, which was filled in 2021 by Gemma Potter. This has been a significant step forward in providing much needed specialist support for secondary breast cancer patients.

“I am glad to have access to Gemma’s support and at present I liaise with her when I have practical queries. I feel fortunate as my cancer treatment is working at present and my clinical team has everything in hand, so I don’t need to access Gemma’s support on a routine basis. However, looking back to when I was given my secondary diagnosis in 2019, I know Gemma’s support would have made a real difference at that time.  It was an extremely traumatic and uncertain time and having a secondary breast cancer nurse at my side would have really helped with the stress.  I also know that my cancer treatments will eventually fail to work and knowing there is a specialist secondary breast cancer nurse there for support at that stage is very reassuring.

Ann McBrien (centre) is joined by Elaine Shaw, Friends of the Cancer Centre's Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist (left) and Gemma Potter, Friends of the Cancer Centre's Secondary Breast Cancer Nurse (right).

“I am well aware of the difference Gemma’s role has made to other patients. Two of my young friends, Anna and Lyndsey, were the founding members of the Beaconbridge Secondary Breast Cancer Group and passionate campaigners who worked tirelessly to improve the care available to those with secondary breast cancer.  They both benefited from the support of Gemma during the end of life stage of their disease in late 2021. Anna and Lyndsey’s husbands are both appreciative of the fact that Friends of the Cancer Centre were proactive in funding this much needed post. This meant that their wives could see the fruits of their campaign for this post and benefit directly from the care and support of the secondary breast cancer nurse. 

“Anna’s husband, Eamon, has reflected on his wife’s drive and passion for improving care for secondary breast cancer patients. He said:

‘Anna always said ‘I’m a secondary breast cancer patient, not a second best one, and I want to see secondary breast cancer patients get the very best care there is available!’  Seeing Friends of the Cancer Centre fund a secondary breast cancer nurse meant the world to her, as she knew things would be better for those who came behind her.’

“The support provided by Friends of the Cancer Centre is vital and as someone who has benefited from its work for almost 10 years, I am incredibly grateful to everyone who donates and raises money for such an important cause.  I’m very proud that my own family have been part of this. My Mum, brother and sister raised over £4,000 as part of my oncologist’s Soft Border Cycle Challenge around Northern Ireland just after I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2019. More recently, my niece and her friends took part in the Belfast Half Marathon and also raised over £4,000.  As well as being an incredible achievement, the money raised will have a direct impact on the lives of so many people impacted by cancer by helping the charity continue its vital work, including supporting Elaine and Gemma’s posts.”

More news...

Click to access the login or register cheese