Living on a grazing property in North-east Victoria has its daily challenges. Factor in being a mum of four teenage children, and juggling work as a Maternal Child Health Nurse, and life has always been very full for Lencia Moll.
In June 2022, with all of that on her plate, Lencia received a breast cancer diagnosis. The 52-year-old mum was in shock and there were plenty of tears.
“It was completely daunting and overwhelming.”
A month later, she had a mastectomy and is now driving two hours each way for chemotherapy. The treatment and travel are taking their toll.
“I thought I’d kick chemo and get back to work, but it’s not quite the case!”
After starting her surgical treatment in Melbourne, some 250km away from home, Lencia discovered a shining light along the way. McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kerry Patford who is located regionally, just 20 minutes away from Lencia. Kerry’s support has been invaluable.
“Being connected to Kerry nearby was amazing. She has been phenomenal. She talked me through it all, letting me know what to expect, and supporting me along the way. Of all the health professionals I’ve seen, Kerry is one of the most valuable, and she’s free!”
Lencia is incredibly grateful for the support she’s received from friends, family, and even strangers.
“The love you receive from family & friends is what makes you feel more positive.”
As she undertook her treatment, Lencia wanted to show the ‘real side of breast cancer’ and took part in her own black and white portrait shoot.
Lencia had three friends diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. Lencia had breast lumps checked previously, and they had been ok. However, when she noticed further changes, it prompted her to visit the GP again.
“I listened to their stories and thought ‘I sound worse than them, I really need to get myself checked’. Half of my brain was saying it will be fine, the other half was thinking maybe it’s not.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2022, Lencia’s world was turned upside down and there were many nights she cried herself to sleep. Her immediate questions were how much time do I have to take off work, and what does this all mean?
As a fit, active lady who’s run half marathons and always gets on with things, husband Jim told Lencia, “You’ll nail this as you always have.”
With Jim by her side, Lencia sat the four kids down and told them the news. Charles (Year 12), Olivia (Year 11) – both at boarding school. Albert (Year 9), and Mary (Year 7) attend a local school and live at home.
“I used the words, ‘it’s curable’, which is what the surgeon said. My youngest still became upset.”
Jim’s Mum Alison had a similar diagnosis several years ago. She got a 5-year clearance, then sadly 18 months later she had a recurrence and she passed away in her early 80s.
Naturally, Lencia is concerned the breast cancer could return.
Even working as a maternal child health nurse (community nurse for families in the preventative heath space) could not prepare Lencia for a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Yes I’m a nurse, but breast cancer is a whole new world.”
Diagnosed on 5 June 2022, Lencia underwent a full right mastectomy and had 23 lymph nodes removed for testing. Two lymph nodes were affected.
“My initial feelings were just getting rid of the breast. My main concern at the time was to survive, so to start chemo soon after surgery was important to me.”
Having a reconstruction was not a priority for Lencia, she just wanted the breast gone and then would prepare to commence with chemotherapy.
“Funnily enough, I started having dreams that my husband would reject me because I was disfigured. I woke up and told him so, he said, ‘It’s still you – it doesn’t make any difference’.”
“I appreciate my remaining breast a lot more now!” she says with a chuckle.
Lencia underwent combination chemotherapy, travelling two hours each way for one of her treatments.
“The chemotherapy was bigger than me. Chemo round one was awful. I went through peaks and troughs. My energy levels were low and I wasn’t capable of working. I’m was doing what I could on the property, attending children’s activities (where I could!), and being a housewife for a change.”
Lencia completed treatment on the 22nd of March 2023 after 4 rounds of 3rd weekly chemotherapy, 12 rounds of weekly chemotherapy, and radiation every day for six weeks.
When Lencia called her GP to set up the initial breast check consultation, she sensed things may not be good. So, before the appointment, Lencia arranged a family photo shoot to capture some beautiful memories.
“It was something I’d wanted to do for a while, so now was the time.”
During her treatment, Lencia created a Messenger group to inform family and friends how she’s doing. When she first shared a photo of herself with patchy hair, almost bald, her mum was upset and found the pictures confronting. “But that’s my new reality. That’s breast cancer”.
After her mastectomy, a few health professionals, including her McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kerry Patford have commented how neat her scar is. Kerry Patford said, “That’s the best scar I’ve seen!”
Lencia is proud of her scar and now wanted to capture what breast cancer really looks like in a black-and-white portrait shoot.
“We put on a brave face and walk down the street with a smile. People want to see the happy side, but it’s not always the case. I would like to show the reality. I’m proud of my scar. It will be empowering.”
Lencia on her McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kerry Patford
Because she was receiving treatment in Melbourne, rather than locally, Lencia was post-surgery when she eventually linked up with Kerry Patford. Referred to by at least three people locally as “Your one-stop shop”, Lencia finally picked up the phone and gave her a call. It was a complete game-changer!
“Of all the health professionals, she’s the golden one and it’s free and it’s amazing!”
Ironically, Kerry’s treatment room is in the same building Lencia works in.
“I felt a massive sense of relief. Kerry was so obliging and knowledgeable. All my questions were being addressed. She put in a referral for a psychologist and gave me information about a local support group. She gave me details of where I could get a prosthetic locally. She linked me in with a Lymphedema specialist and she rearranged my specialist physio near home instead of a 3-hour drive to Melbourne.”
“Kerry is like a comforting Aunty, so approachable and nurturing. She is a true advocate. Any questions you ask her, she has the answers”.
“I knew about the McGrath Breast Care Nurses, but I didn’t know what they did until I was in this situation.”
Kerry and Lencia mapped out what her chemotherapy would look like and how it would fit around her family commitments. The trust was there and the plans were now in place.
“I would be lost without Kerry! I was in a very vulnerable place, and Kerry helped to pick up the pieces. She is good with sorting logistics and navigating the many appointments. It’s great to have her external opinion, she puts it all into perspective. She gave me a number of items, including some knitted knockers & I wear them every day at home.”
McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kerry Patford on Lencia
Kerry Patford is one of the originals, joining the McGrath Foundation Breast Care Nursing team in 2009.
She made an immediate impact on Lencia’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
“I think that Lencia thought she could do it on her own because she’s a nurse, but even the most well-attuned people need help. There’s nothing in your life that prepares you for a cancer diagnosis and that’s exactly where we step in.”
Kerry connected Lencia to health professionals and services in her local area, saving many hours of travel time. Kerry was also able to perform massage therapy to help get a range of movement back in her arm. They also discussed her chemotherapy treatment together and set some realistic goals.
“Lencia is kind, smart, and always thinks of others first.”
“She’s a very intelligent woman. She was very determined at the start to continue to work and go along as normal, but with heavy chemotherapy that’s mostly not possible.
“The whole time Lencia was more worried about her kids and how it would affect them, which is such a mum thing to do. Mums walk over broken glass so your kids are unaffected.”
The support of a McGrath Breast Care Nurse is a free service, no matter where you live. To find your nearest McGrath Breast Care Nurse, visit mcgrathfoundation.com.au/get-support/find-a-nurse.