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Buying a bra after a mastectomy: meet the shop assistant who helps Northern Ireland women find the perfect fit

Women who have had surgery or breast cancer need empathy and understanding when they go shopping for new underwear. Suzi Waterworth, from Lisburn, tells how Marks & Spencer bra fit advisor Pat Maguire provided essential help. By Judith Cole

Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life
Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life
Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life

When Lisburn woman Suzi Waterworth recently went through a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery following a diagnosis of breast cancer, she gave away much of her underwear as she believed she wouldn't need it again.

And after approaching the bra fitting service at Marks & Spencer, she was delighted to find expert advice along with support and understanding - making the process of buying a new bra a stress-free experience.

Building up a rapport of trust and understanding is the most important element when dealing with a customer who has been through cancer treatment and who visits for a bra fitting in-store, according to M&S bra fit adviser Pat Maguire.

Having recently reached her 40 years of service milestone with M&S, Pat has been working in the lingerie department at M&S Lisburn for over 18 years. She has a wealth of experience and is renowned for fitting the perfect bra no matter the size and shape.

In addition to the comprehensive M&S bra fit training, Pat, along with 67 of her colleagues, recently received specialist cancer awareness training as part of a partnership between M&S and Action Cancer which she says has helped her have a better understanding for women coming through post-surgery and treatment.

"The training was excellent and helped us to think more from the patient's perspective and how best to advise them in a sensitive and understanding manner," she says.

The cancer awareness training covered a range of topics including general breast awareness, the signs and symptoms to look out for, understanding of cancer and the range of treatments available, learning self-care techniques, recognising the stages of the cancer journey, appreciation of the range of emotions of those affected by cancer, and information on the services Action Cancer has available to support those impacted by cancer.

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Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life
Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life

Pat continues: "The training day was really informative and everyone took something valuable away including self-care techniques, services available and general breast awareness, signs and symptoms.

"Many women are apprehensive when they come into the store and some are concerned about scars or wounds after their surgery, but we have been taught to reassure them and help find them the perfect bra that will fit comfortably.

"I love my job and I particularly enjoy this aspect of it as it is good to feel like you are making a difference and helping someone on their journey."

Pat reveals that appointments can last much longer than anticipated as she enjoys spending time with each customer - and indeed the customer enjoys the opportunity to avail of the expert advice on hand.

"It is so important for the bra fitting experience to be a positive one for the customer and we are specially trained to put them at ease," Pat says. "It is all about talking to the customer and finding out a bit about their personal circumstances.

"Appointments typically last five minutes, while some ladies really open up to me and can be here for over an hour. Everyone is different."

Pat explains what happens at an appointment - and emphasises that customer comfort and support are so important.

"I will ask what type of surgery the customer has had and what advice they've been given by their breast cancer nurse," she says.

"I'll then take measurements and help to choose styles that are supportive and comfortable for her. It is important that she feels like she has a choice and isn't restricted in what to wear."

Suzi Waterworth, who recently benefited from the M&S bra fit service, found out that she had breast cancer following a screening at Action Cancer House in June 2017.

"I got a letter very quickly to say something had been detected and I had to be referred to the City Hospital," she says.

"Following tests, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy and reconstruction in July. I had an implant fitted but this later had to be removed."

Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life
Expert advice: Pat Maguire, Marks & Spencer bra fit adviser, and Suzi Waterworth, who says Action Cancer saved her life

Suzi was delighted with her experience of the M&S bra fitting service - and like anyone who has endured similar, she appreciated that it was stress-free.

"Following my surgery I gave away a lot of my underwear as I thought I won't need that again," she recalls.

"I personally found the bra fitting service at M&S a very comfortable and informative experience. Pat is very knowledgeable, and she really put me at ease - she was fantastic.

"I didn't feel awkward or uncomfortable with her and she provided me with some new options of underwear.

"I would definitely encourage others who have had surgery to avail of the M&S bra fitting service as it is second to none."

And Suzi reveals that she has received good news about her health.

"I am cancer-free now," she says. "Thanks to Action Cancer, my breast cancer was detected early and it saved my life."

Ruth Fleming, services development manager with Action Cancer, says that more than 75 fitters at M&S in Northern Ireland have now been trained by the charity.

The aim of the cancer awareness training, she explains, is to understand the progression of cancer and how people who go on this journey may be feeling.

"The training aims to help people gain an understanding of cancer, to know the range of treatments available, recognise the stages of the cancer journey and appreciate the scope of emotions of those affected by cancer," she says.

"The idea is to learn what services Action Cancer have available to support people impacted by cancer as well as learning self-care techniques.

"The response to the cancer awareness training has been amazing and the feedback from M&S colleagues very positive. The bra fit advisers have said they felt empowered by the knowledge and better equipped to deliver a specialist service to their customers, a lot of whom have been through the cancer journey."

Vital role: M&S staff receiving their cancer awareness training certificates
Vital role: M&S staff receiving their cancer awareness training certificates

Throughout June, July and August, more than 3,000 M&S colleagues across stores in Northern Ireland are supporting Action Cancer in a bid to raise £1m for the charity's counselling and therapeutic services.

Since M&S Northern Ireland's partnership with Action Cancer launched 10 years ago, the retailer has raised over £900,000, and M&S colleagues have set the bar high to reach their £1m target.

Colleagues from the 21 stores across the province, along with their family and friends, are taking part in many novel fundraising events including a One Million Steps for £1m sponsored walk, as well as a sponsored climb of Cuilcagh Mountain in Co Fermanagh on July 28.

Customers too can get involved in the many fundraising activities being organised in support of the campaign, including a Fashion & Style event in the M&S Lisburn store on August 22 featuring a fit and style session, beauty and skincare demonstrations and a fashion show.

Speaking about the challenge, Simon Layton, head of region for M&S in Northern Ireland, says: "I'm delighted to be joining so many colleagues in this summer's charity challenge to reach a phenomenal £1m for Action Cancer. We know the importance of Action Cancer's work and are proud to support the charity through creative fundraising initiatives - there is a chance for our colleagues and customers alike to be involved."

Dougie King, head of fundraising and communication at Action Cancer, adds: "Everyone knows someone affected by a cancer diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis impacts the whole family.

"So it's good to know that the charity can be there for anyone affected, with counselling, scar therapy, physiotherapy and a range of therapeutic services including aromatherapy to relieve pain, reduce stress and support a better night's sleep.

"We support local people on their cancer journey and help in whatever way possible; M&S has been alongside us on that journey for 10 years and we are grateful for all the lives they have touched with their generosity and support."

The money raised by M&S will support Action Cancer's counselling and therapeutic services for adults, children aged five and above, and family members impacted by cancer. These include counselling, complementary therapies, acupuncture, scar therapy, cancer rehabilitation physiotherapy and life coaching and are available throughout Northern Ireland.

To find out more information about Action Cancer, please visit actioncancer.org

Full range of support services for anyone affected by cancer

Action Cancer offers a range of support services to any adult or child affected by cancer, whether this is the person diagnosed or family members, friends or carers.

This support is available at the diagnosis stage and also during and after treatment. Services are also available to anyone who has been bereaved through cancer or is currently undergoing genetic cancer testing. The support and therapeutic services are designed to deal with both physical and emotional issues such as pain, tiredness, sleeplessness, anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed which often is felt by people diagnosed with cancer, and also their family members.

Support services include:

Positive Living Programme: a two-day life coaching programme. This helps people to reflect, refocus, rebuild and re-energise, and to recognise their own personal strengths. It enables people to devise strategies to live a fulfilling life.

Counselling: for adults and children aged five and above. Counselling provides the opportunity to explore feelings, identify concerns, and devise ways to help for the future. It may employ certain techniques including sand play, thought field therapy, time line therapy and neuro-linguistic programming.

Complementary therapy: this can include aromatherapy, gentle massage therapy, reflexology, touch therapy, relaxation therapy, visualisation, Bach Flower Remedies, Bowen Therapy and Emmett Therapy.

Pain and Symptom Control: can include acupuncture, scar therapy, physiotherapy, and the Bowen and Emmett Techniques.

To book an appointment for any of the counselling and therapeutic services, tel: 9080 3344.

Have fun and raise cash for Action Cancer

Run Together with Centra for Action Cancer - 5k charity run events throughout the summer, until October 20

Kilimanjaro Open Challenge Trek - September 27-October 7

New York City Marathon - November 3

The Inca Trail Open Challenge Trek - November 15-24

Cycle Tanzania to Zanzibar - November 15-24

Cambodia Trek to Angkor Wat - November 16-24

Fat Biking in Finland's Bear Kingdom - March 14-20, 2020

For more information on these events and to see the full list, visit www. actioncancer.org

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