When Karen Kirkby found out about the Pink Up Your Town initiative, she knew instantly that this was the perfect way for her and her close-knit community to support a cause close to their hearts.
Karen took her Pink Up Namoi idea to the Narrabri Chamber of Commerce. It was here that she presented this moving letter that she addressed to herself, reflecting on her experience with breast cancer.
You are an incredibly strong person. You are in your prime. Your career is really taking off. Your farm is doing great. The drought is behind you. Your son is thriving in the army. You have amazing friends. You are adored and loved by your husband. You’re feeling so happy and grateful.
COVID-19 is gaining momentum but you feel safe in Narrabri. Borders close and you are sad you can’t see family interstate, but you know it’s important.
Here’s a little heads up. A few months after your 49th birthday you will be diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer (July 2nd, 2020). You will be shocked. You will be confused. You will be scared. You will not know the prognosis for some time. Your mum and brother cannot come and be with you. But you will not be alone. You will have the never-ending support of your husband who feels all the emotions you are feeling. Mark will be by your side every step of this terrible time.
The next two weeks will be emotionally draining, and you will be overwhelmed. You can barely think. So many appointments, so much to consider, decisions will have to made quickly. It will get very hard. You will be frightened for the very first time in your life.
You don’t know it yet, but you are about to meet someone in Narrabri who will have such an enormous impact on your life. It’s not your GP, it’s not your surgeon or oncologist. It’s your local McGrath Breast Care Nurse – Wendy Allen.
Just one visit with Wendy, and you will realise there is a whole new level of support. Wendy is a specialist McGrath Breast Care Nurse who will provide essential support to you and your family. Wendy will be your go to for all things worrying you or your husband. Wendy will help you understand your cancer, it’s stage and treatment options, your reactions and your apprehension.
When you feel the burden of trying to reassure your loved ones you are OK you will still ask yourself “will I die from this disease”, Wendy will be the one you turn to. You will tell her you are not strong enough to handle this, you hurt emotionally and physically and you cannot pretend to always be positive. In your lowest time, Wendy will come to you at your farm, have a cup of tea, and get you back on track.
You will have a double mastectomy and two weeks later another surgery to remove your lymph nodes. This is where you will meet the Dubbo breast cancer nurses Margie and Vanessa who will be at your side before and after each surgery. Margie and/or Vanessa will visit you in hospital to give you beautifully handmade bags to place your drain bags in while showering in hospital or to use when out in public, along with small special purpose pillows to help make travelling in a car less painful. These beautiful nurses will give you goodies such as lip balm, moisturiser, oil for your surgery scars and scented candles.
You will realise you are actually very fortunate. Not everyone has the network of friends and family nearby due to Covid border restrictions. Not everyone has access to these amazing breast cancer nurses. You will be so grateful that the Dubbo nurses provide excellent post-surgery procedures such as dressing and draining your wounds. At times, you will have to travel 3 hours to Dubbo and back again in a day, up to three times a week. You don’t know it, but there will be constant communication between the nurses at Dubbo and Narrabri after each of your visits. They will always keep one step ahead of you and will be busy behind the scenes.
You will be in constant contact with all the McGrath nurses during your 5 months of chemotherapy. Strap yourself in babe because here comes a very low point in your life. Your hair falls out, you lose your eyebrows and eyelashes, and then your fingernails and toenails fall off. Your body will have so many scars that you will barely recognise yourself when you look in the mirror.
Chin up because the McGrath Breast Care Nurses will shine a light for you again. They will put you in contact with the Dubbo wig library, they will inform the LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD foundation on your behalf and packages will arrive in your mailbox. The packages will contain makeup and tutorials on how to help you look good through makeup and practical tips on how to tie scarves and where to purchase head turbans. It will seem silly at first because you were never one to really wear make-up, let alone spend time styling your hair. It will surprise you how crucial the look good – feel good practice will be to your mental wellbeing going forward.
You will make it through your cancer treatment, with your dignity intact. Well done, but you will move to the next stage of preventing the reoccurrence of cancer. You will commence monthly hormone blocking treatment in Coonabarabran with the oncologist administering your first needle. You will check your sick leave balance and start to plan to use one day of sick leave every month to go to Coonabarabran for treatment.
Because of the McGrath Foundation, you find out you won’t need to travel away for treatment anymore, as Wendy once again plays a pivotal role. She will be the one who will inject you with your hormone blocking pellet. It is a huge needle and it hurts but not for too long.
You will still have your portacath in where they administered your chemo and it will need to be flushed every month to keep it in working order should the cancer return. Wendy will arrange to flush your portacath at the same time she gives you the needle.
Having Wendy in your hometown of Narrabri will mean you won’t have to travel away for treatment anymore. There will be no need to take sick days off work as your treatment will be done before or after you finish work.
You and your family will get through this very hard time in your life. And you will be grateful you have the McGrath Breast Care Nurses to turn to for your ongoing treatment and support. It will make you think of other people going through what you went through without the support of these beautiful nurses.
You won’t remember everything these nurses will have done for you over the past 8 months due to your lasting chemo fog, but you will know in your heart your breast cancer nurses Wendy, Margie and Vanessa made life for you and your family so much better.
You will be determined to do whatever you can to help others affected by breast cancer. You will help to make a difference for others.
– Karen Kirkby
The colour of care is everywhere in Namoi
Karen Kirkby regularly travelled from her hometown Narrabri in regional NSW to Dubbo to receive breast cancer treatment. But for a one-off appointment, Karen made the three-and-a-half-hour journey down to Mudgee. It was a chance encounter on this trip that led her and the entire Namoi region down the pinkest of paths.