SUPPORT: McGrath Foundation breast care nurse Karen Miles wants people to donate to the cause and help find a cure for breast cancer.
SUPPORT: McGrath Foundation breast care nurse Karen Miles wants people to donate to the cause and help find a cure for breast cancer. Rob Williams

Ipswich's McGrath nurse reveals heartbreaking moment

TELLING a women breast cancer will rob her of birthdays, family and a future never gets easier for Karen Miles.

As one of 119 McGrath Foundation nurses across Australia, Mrs Miles is commonly described as a guiding angel.

Her deep brown eyes and calming words are often the first sense of reassurance a woman diagnosed with cancer will experience.

"I see ladies at diagnosis, through surgery, chemotherapy and beyond," Mrs Miles said.

"I'm like a dog, I'm for life, not just for Christmas."

When women and some men are diagnosed with breast cancer they can be sent into a period of crisis.

Mrs Miles, who is based at the Ipswich Hospital, said people predictably thought the worst would occur in quick time.

"Lots of them come to me and think they're going to die very quickly, they've written their will," the nurse added.

"Breast cancer is an extremely treatable and curable disease - there's a lot of future ahead of them."

After five years, almost 90 per cent of women remain alive, statistics show.

"I know that although they're in crisis and they've got breast cancer, there's a really good chance they're going to get through this," Mrs Miles said.

Sitting in doctors' appointments, meetings and holding consultations, Mrs Miles is the sounding board and information portal on each patient's journey.

"I'm in the background listening for them, in on every occasion they come into the doctors, at diagnosis and when they get their results I'll be listening too," she said.

Mrs Miles joined the McGrath Foundation in 2009, about one year after its inspiration Jane McGrath died of breast cancer.

Maintaining a close relationship with her patients can be a double-edged sword, with the breast care nurse sometimes struggling to separate herself from her work.

That relationship coupled with her own no-bull attitude can lead to heartbreaking conversations with women who will be defeated, at least physically, by cancer.

"There always comes a time when they reach the end of the line," she said.

"That's the time you need to sit down and have a talk with their family, with their husband, because they may want to plan things.

"One lady had little gifts and letters for every time their child reaches a milestone, when they leave school, when they get engaged and when they get married.

"They need to make all these plans and they're not able to make that if they don't realise their time is coming up."

Despite working as a nurse for 15 years, losing a woman to secondary breast cancer never becomes normal.

"There's no easy way to say it - I've cried with patients," she said.

But guiding a woman and her family through the difficult journey keeps Mrs Miles' enthusiasm for her daily employment.

"My job isn't depressing, people think it's depressing but it's not, it's uplifting," she said.

"We're finding out so many things about breast cancer.

"I'm hoping for a cure."