'It's pretty fierce': The call from a stranger that gave Kristy hope


It was a chilly autumn day in 2016 when Kristy Herschell found out she had advanced breast cancer and had to quickly start treatment. Within a day, she received a call from a stranger, who calmed her down and gave her hope.

The caller was Kerry Patford, one of 119 specialist breast care nurses employed by the McGrath Foundation. She provided Ms Herschell with free, all-round support as she underwent chemotherapy, and later, radiotherapy, and surgery.

"You get a lot of medical information at the start and it's hard to take it in, so to be able to contact Kerry and ask about chemotherapy and how I'll feel and cope, because it's pretty fierce, was good," said Ms Herschell, a mother-of-two from Bright, Victoria.

"After treatment, I talked with her a lot, about how my body was responding, and I had a stage when I had sore ribs and was getting paranoid, so it was great to just check in with her."

Ahead of the fifth and final Ashes Test, which began on Thursday, the McGrath Foundation, run by former cricketer Glenn McGrath, announced it was aiming to raise an ambitious $1.3 million during this year's Pink Test - triple the previous year's goal.

If successful, it will be able to fund 10 McGrath breast care nurses for an entire year and provide free support to 1000 families struggling with breast cancer.

Mr McGrath was the first to admit $1.3 million was a "lofty" goal, but based on sell-out crowds for the first three days and the sell-out Jane McGrath high tea event, he's confident they will reach it.

"We've set a fairly lofty goal but I think it's very achievable, especially with the way we've been growing and the support we've received," he said.

"But with breast cancer still the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women, and 149 men diagnosed every year, the need for the essential support provided by McGrath Breast Care Nurses continues to grow."

To celebrate 10 years of the Pink Test, the foundation for the first time will hold the "Pink Picnic", where cricketing fans can pull up a pink picnic rug and unpack a hamper while watching the Ashes on the big screen at Allianz Stadium.

Familiar events such as Pink Stumps Day and Jane McGrath High Tea will also be on.

Mr McGrath and his late wife Jane created the foundation in 2005 after her initial recovery from breast cancer.

There were about 17,500 new cases of breast cancer in Australia last year. The incidence rate is expected to increase this year.

"The foundation is all about hope and it's not so much about the quantity of life but the quality, getting out there and enjoying it, puts life in perspective," he said.

"Jane never wanted it to be about her and it's not about me. It's about our nurses, about people going through breast cancer, the families, the individuals, it's about hope."

"James and Holly are 18 and 16 and they're going really well, and I know Jane will be looking down, she'll be really proud of what the foundation is achieving and proud of her family."

Ms Herschell, 43, is now in remission and enjoying "normal life" with her two sons, aged four and seven.

"A friend of mine had breast cancer 15 years ago and she told me she would run across the road to her dentist's neighbour to read his medical books and understand what was going on," she said.

"My experience, with the help of Kerry, was so vastly different, I used to see her every week."

Ms Patford, who like all McGrath breast care nurses has a postgraduate qualification in breast care nursing, said their job was to answer the unanswered questions.

"We're completely free, so in a time of great expense, we're the resource that's completely free and accessible."

This story 'It's pretty fierce': The call from a stranger that gave Kristy hope first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.