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A day in the life of a Macmillan community nurse

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Gill Laidlow works with patients who have had cancer treatment - and can draw on her own experiences

Gill Laidlow’s CV boasts 20 years of district nursing, a newly earned BSc in specialist practice and, most recently, a job as a Macmillan community nurse in Macmillan’s personal patient care pilot program, the One to One Support Service. However, what isn’t on her CV in big, bold words is “breast cancer survivor”.

It is this part of her life that Ms Laidlow has chosen to keep silent but is perhaps

the biggest source of fuel behind her drive to be a thorough and exceptional healthcare provider for cancer patients.

As one of eight team members in Macmillan’s One to One Support Service, Ms Laidlow uses what she has learned as a nurse - and as a patient herself - when she visits patients in their homes in South Gloucestershire, one of 16 sites the project serves in the country.

A past cancer patient herself, Ms Laidlow remembers her own reaction to her diagnosis in 2007 and how she decided to cope with life as a nurse living with breast cancer.

“The weeks between waiting to know what it was and what grade and what treatment were likely were absolute agony. It was better once I knew what I was dealing with but, working as a district nurse, I did see patients who did not have a good outcome, so it was all very frightening.”

As she cares for her own patients, Ms Laidlow keeps her own needs as a cancer patient in mind.

She says a recent patient of hers, recovering from breast cancer, serves as an example of the mission of One to One - to help patients become independent after cancer treatment.

The woman was wearing a wig and unable to move on from her cancer. After several weeks with Ms Laidlow’s help, the woman no longer wears the wig and is able to cycle and walk on her own.

“Each patient may have different concerns, so it’s about identifying them, helping them to address them and hopefully find some self-management strategies in order for them to move on with their life and have a good quality of life,” Ms Laidlow says.

She understands her history of cancer to be something that guides her as a nurse, but knows to put patient care first.

“They know that I know what they’ve been going through,” she says. “It’s all about the patient, though, not all about me.”

While it remains a personal detail, Ms Laidlow’s battle with breast cancer is what pushed her to apply for the job with Macmillan. A year that had included a lumpectomy, mastectomy and prophylactic mastectomy brought feelings of uneasiness at the thought of a cancer care job.

“I remember one of our GPs saying to me that it would be very difficult to return to nursing after having that diagnosis,” Ms Laidlow says.

“That was very true, but I had to find a way to deal with it. It was a big decision for me to apply for the Macmillan One to One Support Service community nurse role but, as I frequently dealt with cancer anyway, this was also moving forward as it is about supporting cancer survivors and improving their quality

of life.”

When caring for cancer patients becomes emotionally taxing, Ms Laidlow seeks the support of her husband, also a nurse.

In an effort to fight the devastation of cancer, the pair pedalled a combined 200 plus miles in the MacRide tour in May of this year. The bike ride, through the countryside from Bath to Stratford-upon-Avon, raises funds for Macmillan’s Cancer Care Pot. While the money is the result of efforts like the bike ride, Ms Laidlow finds a sense of duty with each passing mile.

“When I had my diagnosis, it really helped me to know of other women who had been able to get back on with their lives and, if I can help inspire anyone to achieve this, I’ll be happy,” she says. “That’s all I wanted - to get back on with my life and work.”

Hilary Weaver

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