Petra Buchanan has a much more important job than your average CEO.
Most CEOs are concerned entirely with the financial bottom line. For Buchanan and everyone associated with the McGrath Foundation, the only bottom line that matters is the quality of life of people who suffer from breast cancer and their families.
On the eve of the traditional Pink Day at the SCG, Huffington Post Australia sat down with Petra Buchanan to discuss the foundation’s goals and achievements.
HuffPost Australia: First things first. The McGrath Foundation does NOT fund research. That’s for the scientists, right?
Petra: Right. One of the most important things for me in this role is to have people understand what the foundation does, which is first and foremost to provide a service. We do not fund any research.
Forty-two people are diagnosed with breast cancer every day in Australia. We know that this is growing, and that by 2017, 210 thousand Australians will be living with a diagnosis. It’s really, really significant, but on the other hand the stats are positive with regard to survival rates. Ninety per cent of people diagnosed will be alive in five years time. The challenge they still have to live through it and they still need care and support.
HuffPost Australia: And that’s where the McGrath Foundation comes in?
Petra: Where we are so unique is we provide tangible care for those individuals.
HuffPost Australia: The foundation’s stated aim for the Pink Test this year is to raise $380,000 for a breast care nurse over the course of three years. Tell us a bit about how the nurses work.
Petra: I’ll give you an example. I was in Western Australia recently and I got into a rental car, got my GPS sorted out and drove out to Northam. So I’m driving into this teeny little town where one of our nurses has been based for a couple of years. I wanted to see what her patient load was like and those kind of things. What I found so compelling is the humanity of what they do. Dealing with people who in most cases are really fearful -- who are confronted with something they didn’t think was gonna happen to them -- it’s very emotional.
Ultimately everyone is thinking, whether they say it or not, ‘Am I going to die?’ So the nurses have to help them get over their initial fears and then the explain choices. Often people have to very quickly come to terms [with their medical choices] and and make decisions. So our nurses are there to help with the emotional side of it and then to help navigate the health system.
HuffPost Australia: People in regional communities must find that a real blessing as it’s often so hard to acces health services compared to the city.
Petra: In the metropolitan environment nurses are so busy because of the greater population density but there are also greater services available to patients. In the regional centres we find there’s quite an emotional bond that can be formed. In many circumstances if you’re living on the land and have family and a lot of people depending on you, the one person you can close the door and express things to and be vulnerable to is that nurse. Often they’re the one person they can release their concerns to and form quite an intimate bond with – although obviously every relationship is different.
HuffPost Australia: And the nurses help family members too, don’t they.
Petra: Yes it’s not necessarily patients [who are grateful], it’s the loved ones too. Often a partner might not be coping well. Men love to be fixers, they love to fix everything but you know what? They can’t fix this situation. We get partners ringing the nurse saying ‘she not tellng me anything’. So the nurse is a conduit. And sometimes patients tell our nurses that they’re worried about their partner because he’s so worried about me.
HuffPost Australia: We can see just how valuable the nurses are in so many ways. But there are still not enough, right? And that’s why we’re still raising money.
Petra: According to research by the Australian Health and Hospital Association and the McGrath Foundation, in 2016 there is a predicted shortfall of 85 breast care nurses nationally.
HuffPost Australia: Tell us a beautiful story of love and hope, Petra. Any beautiful story.
Petra: I remember there was one lovely little boy whose mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This boy said to his parents ‘I don’t want any Christmas presents this year. I want to donate to the McGrath Foundation. We got in touch with him and said ‘can we give him a signed bat by Glenn or something?’. His mum said ‘he made a commitment so don’t send that bat to us’. I think we sent it anyway.
HuffPost Australia: Love it. Petra, it's now nearly eight years since Jane McGrath passed away and the Foundation came into being. What’s Glenn’s role today?
Petra: He is an amazing advocate for the foundation. He’s on the board and is involved in strategic directions. He’s also a great spokesperson for us, especially when he’s wearing his pink Akubra and hot pink suit and doing what he does so well, which is helping draw attention to the cause.
HuffPost Australia: And beyond the ongoing quest to raise money for breast care nurses, what’s the broader role of the foundation?
Petra: For me, one of the things I’m trying to do is to make sure we are seen as an innovative charity. We’ve turned traditional cricket white to hot pink which is an indication of how we are leading this organisation into the future. We know that more breast care nurses are needed and we know we need to grow to achieve that.
More broadly we are focused on breast awareness. “If you grow ‘em, you gotta know ‘em is our motto and we encourage people to get a bit friendly with themselves and to do a BSE [Breast Self Examination] on a monthly basis. That’s the only way you can know if something has changed.
HuffPost Australia: Thanks for talking to us Petra. Hope the rain doesn’t spoil the fundraising party.
Petra: Thanks for the opportunity.