Instead of gifts, breast cancer patient Elisa is asking friends to buy Virtual Pink Seats to the Pink Test for her birthday.
There are three reasons her next birthday will be extra-memorable; it’s her 50th, it’s a post-cancer birthday and it falls on Jane McGrath Day (Jan 7) of the Pink Test.
Elisa, a Sydney mother of three boys, had been taking herself for breast screens every second year or so since her mid-30’s, because she’d had a lump biopsied when she was breastfeeding her youngest son. Elisa says the timing of her eventual diagnosis was “a bit of a miracle.” She’d got her referral in February 2020 but was uncomfortable making an appointment in the early months of Covid so put it off until September.
“I am just so thankful for the diligent sonographer on that day who picked this up very early.” she says.
“The first time I met my wonderful surgeon she said someone was watching over me in terms of the finding and the timing. I could’ve been walking around with this for a few years and had a very different outcome. Early diagnosis is key. It taught me never to delay screening ? even in a pandemic.”
Elisa was treated at The Mater Hospital in Sydney where she was supported by two McGrath Breast Care Nurses, Michiko Ban and Clare John.
“Although I knew a number of women, including both my mother and mother-in-law, who had been through breast cancer, nothing prepares you for the reality of your own diagnosis. It’s confronting and overwhelming. You have to take on a lot of information all at once. You have to make potentially life-altering decisions with very little time to make them. I was also worried about my husband and boys’ future.” Elisa says.
“Michiko was a really important part of my treatment.
“As well as offering her knowledge and experience, she offered me emotional support. It’s important to have someone to talk to, especially in those moments when your thoughts go to a dark place. But between Michiko, Clare and my entire medical team, I knew I had the best of care.”
Elisa’s mother, Janine, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and coincidentally was supported by the same nurses at the time in Clare and Michiko, before they joined the McGrath Foundation.
“On the day of my surgery, Clare was with me during check-in and I told her that my mother went through the Mater 10 years ago for her breast cancer. She then asked my mum’s name. I never expected Clare to remember her, but she did and even recalled her diagnosis and treatment.”
“It was an unexpected but wonderful connection to make on the day of my breast cancer surgery. It’s sad we’ve both had to go through it, but lovely we had a continuity of care
Last year, Elisa finished radiation on Christmas and the Pink Test fell on January 7, her 49th birthday. She bought Virtual Pink Seats for her family and, in lieu of gifts, asked her friends do the same.
“I also bought for the women (and men) who will be diagnosed after me, so there can be continuity of care by the current cohort of McGrath Breast Care Nurses. It was amazing to have the support of the nurses who had supported my mother 10 years before me.”
“Breast cancer can be just as much a mental challenge as a physical one
“I bought Virtual Pink Seats because I’d experienced the impact the McGrath Breast Care Nurses brought to my breast cancer journey,” she says. “Having that regular point of contact to help you navigate the lows and share the highs of treatment was invaluable.”
Meet Elisa’s McGrath Breast Care Nurse Michiko Ban
Michiko Ban, 46, has been in the McGrath Breast Care Nurse role for three years and is based at The Mater Hospital in Sydney. She sees her role as offering patient-centered care.
“Each person has a different way of supporting patients, but for McGrath Breast Care Nurses we always bring it back to the patients. We involve them in their treatment, give them information and empower them to make their own decisions,” she says.
“We involve them in their treatment, give them information and empower them to make their own decisions
“Before becoming a nurse, I didn’t realise how much psychological support we provide to patients. It’s part of the human relationship, talking to them, having a connection with them and supporting them when they are having a difficult time.”
Michiko has been in Australia nearly 20 years, she has seen the role cricket plays in Australian culture and how the Pink Test benefits from it.
“Using cricket brings awareness and spreads the message to everyone in Australia. Nowadays, one in seven women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, which is why it’s so important for women to have regular screenings.”
Michiko bought a Virtual Pink Seat for the Pink Test last year and will do the same again this year. When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in Japan, Michiko saw how she struggled without the support that Michiko and her colleagues give others.
“I bought a seat for people who don’t have access to breast care nurses. There are people who have to go through this challenging time without any support, I wanted to donate in the hope that everyone gets support from a McGrath Breast Care Nurse because it’s important to their recovery.” Michiko says.