By Jodi Bryant

When Carol Roland began accompanying her friend to Breast Cancer Support Northland meets, she had no idea she would soon need the services herself.

But, at age 45, the Whangarei nurse discovered a lump and her own breast cancer journey began.

"I never would've thought to have a mammogram done," says the now 62-year-old. "I just found the lump one day. I never thought I would get it. It was definitely a big shock to me. I was only 45 with a young family, I had a healthy diet, ran half-marathons – I still had my life ahead of me."

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However, she describes her own journey as relatively easy compared to what some endure, due to lots of support from her husband Bill, friends, family and the Breast Cancer Support Northland Trust (BCSNT).

It was early stage breast cancer and, after radiotherapy and surgery, followed by several years of close monitoring, she was declared cancer-free.

"I consider myself quite lucky. It's been a journey and a successful one for me. But it's a very traumatic experience and you feel like you want to give back to people."

Which is why Carol has been a prominent volunteer for BCSNT ever since.

The group was set up in 1980 by a head nurse at Whangarei Hospital, Betty Morgan, who realised, once discharged, there was little support for women with breast cancer. In 2007, the group became a charitable trust and, while some of the members are medically-trained, their roles are not to offer medical advice, but support and guidance.

Now the longest-serving member, Carol is one of eight visitor volunteers and her role as co-ordinator involves matching volunteer visitors with the referrals who might be of similar age or have undergone similar ordeals.

"The information we are given is all very private and secure and when you ring the ladies, you soon get the impression how much or if any support they want or need. Whangarei is a small place and sometimes it will be a friend or colleague. But it doesn't matter if you already know them or not, usually as soon as you ring somebody, you develop a bond and friendship."

The visitor support includes, phone calls, accompanying to appointments and coffee meets. BCSNT also provide meals, food hampers and subsidised pilates, with annual events such as the Pink Loop Walk fundraiser, mid-winter Christmas dinner and annual retreat.

Ages of ladies who have used the support range from 30 to a 'delightful 90-year-old lady' and a woman in her 80s who had breast cancer herself is also still supporting the group.

"Our Mauri Ora Breast Clinic is fantastic and the treatments are so good out there that if you have regular mammograms and examinations and are diagnosed early, the chances of survival are really good.

"Between the ages of 40-50 is quite a rampant stage for breast cancer," Carol adds. "New Zealand really needs to be more vigilant and have the age for free mammograms starting at 40, instead of 45."

Carol's nursing career spans 45 years and has seen her nursing her former matron with breast cancer.

"It's certainly very busy doing both jobs but (volunteering for the BCSNT) is a different area that I enjoy and I get the feeling that I've helped somebody. You can see that they've valued your support and you know what they're going through. I feel privileged to have been able to give back a little for the assistance I received."

# Carol has been nominated as our October Local Legend by her fellow trustees at Breast Cancer Support Northland Trust who say she "works tirelessly to ensure the ladies are given the best support possible. The Trust wouldn't work without her".

For further information on the BCSNT services, call 0800 227 687 or go to: www.breastcancernorthland.co.nz

Carol is this month's nominee for our Local Legends $100 New World Kerikeri Gift Card.
If you know of a suitable nominee, please email us at:
savvy@northernadvocate.co.nz