A day in the life of a breast cancer clinical nurse specialist.

Each year the breast care nurses at Gateshead support over 700 people from across the North East region

The Breast Unit at Gateshead Health has 13 breast care nurses dedicated to supporting patients, their families and carers from their breast screening/triple assessment appointment, new diagnosis, surgery, therapies and treatments, through to recovery. Each year they support over 700 people from across the North East region with a new diagnosis of breast cancer.

Caroline Tweedie, one of our Breast Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), tells us more about her role.

Caroline Tweedie at the Bright Ideas Health Awards
Caroline Tweedie at the Bright Ideas in Health awards

I’ve worked for Gateshead Health since 2016, my role is really rewarding, even though I sometimes have to deal with emotionally difficult and challenging situations. I need to have compassion and advanced communications skills to handle situations. Cancer treatments can be complex, so I have to quickly take in information and explain options to patients in a way they can understand.

One of the best things about my role is that we never stop learning. Research in breast cancer is constantly evolving new practices, so I need to keep my clinical expertise fresh.

It is widely acknowledged that the CNS plays a crucial role in high quality patient care. We act as a role model for nursing practice across the speciality and the trust, providing clinical nursing advice and education. We are a source of advice and knowledge for healthcare professionals within breast services and oncology (cancer diagnosis and treatment) and work with teams from different departments and specialist MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Team) in making sure patients get the right care for them throughout their journey.

My team is currently supporting the Northern Cancer Alliance with a new pilot mastalgia (breast pain) clinic. Led by our nurse consultant Caroline Buchanan and CNS Lynn Pounder the clinic will help better manage what is a quite common condition, but which often causes unnecessary anxiety for patients.

A referral to the Breast Team will naturally be worrying. The reality is that referrals, where breast pain is the main symptom, rarely lead to diagnosis of cancer. This new clinic will reduce the number of referrals and therefore reduce the number of patients experiencing unnecessary worry and concern.

Some of our work that I am most proud of is developing a digital portfolio of support for cancer patients. It was new, innovative, and helped camaraderie within the team during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using our own cancer experts at Gateshead Health has helped to produce a readily accessible library of personalised information to support our patients. The work received recognition at the Bright Ideas Health Awards, winning the Innovation Champion Award. At the recent British Journal of Nursing awards it was awarded silver in the Oncology nurse of the year category.

What the cancer CNSs offer

  • Nurse-led clinics (face to face, virtual and telephone)
  • Personalised information about treatment options.
  • Education events and self-management programmes.
  • Holistic needs assessments and individualised care plans.
  • Signposting to other agencies.
  • Reconstruction counselling, wound support and nipple tattooing.
  • Referrals to other specialist teams.
  • Specialist wound intervention.
  • Lymphoedema support
  • Oncology and Secondary Breast Cancer support
  • Telephone advice and support.

If you would like to read more about the breast services at Gateshead Health, you can find out more on our website. Our cancer podcast series is also available on YouTube and on Spotify.