Maggie’s Centres provide much needed friendship, hospitality and support for cancer sufferers across the UK.
The Centres are the brainchild of Maggie Keswick Jencks, a woman who had vitality and determination in abundance. She needed every ounce of these when, in 1993, she was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer and told that she had just a few months to live. Having joined a trial for metastasised breast cancer and won an eighteen month reprieve, she put all her recovered energy in to fighting for the supportive adjunct to medical treatment which she felt was desperately needed by anybody having to learn how to rebuild a life with cancer as part of it.
In October I travelled to Maggies Highlands, in the grounds of Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, to meet with Carole Bridge, the staff and visitors. The Centre was officially opened on 7th June 2005. Since its opening, the Centre is visited on average by 30 people a day and provides a vital service for people affected by cancer in the Highlands area. Maggie’s Highlands was designed by Scottish architect, David Page of Page\Park, and the surrounding landscape by Maggie’s husband, Charles Jencks. The building itself and the surrounding landscaping are stunning…and in stark contrast to the traditional concrete and steel of the neighbouring hospital.
The first thing that you notice when you walk through the door is the warm, homely welcome. On the day I visited half a dozen ladies were sitting chatting around the kitchen table. I was greeted immediately with a friendly “hello” and offered a cup of tea – there was no receptionist, no security desk, no long corridors, no soulless signs to distant departments. In fact none of the things you would associate with a hospital are found in the Maggies Centre. And this is the point. The centre is a haven from the hospital environment. It is a home from home for the men and women who are at the various stage of cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
The relaxed environment, where everyone is made welcome, listened to and supported, allows cancer patients much needed respite from the emotional and physical trauma of cancer.
Maggies Highlands has a full-time staff of 4; Carole herself, an information specialist, fundraiser and clinical psychologist. All of these professionals are smartly but casually dressed and mingle freely with the visitors. There is no barrier here – everyone talks freely to everyone else – each supports each other and this is the key to the success of the centres here and nationwide.
Maggies Highlands has particular challenges due to the special geography of this part of the UK – have a look at a map and imagine living in Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis and being diagnosed with cancer. Some treatments are Monday to Friday over periods from 4-7 weeks. Travelling in and out to hospital each day is not an option here so staying in Inverness is unavoidable each treatment session may last less than an hour so what of the rest of every day, especially where family members have other committments and cannot be there 24/7. Here the centre comes into it’s own – it becomes their space. Even where patients can travel back home between treatments the on-line centre, e-mail and telephone support help people at these difficult times and, importantly, help people move on after treatment.
It is not uncommon that people who receive support from the centre go on to support the centre. One such relationship resulted in the centre winning the Association of Scottish Businesswomen award for best charity-business partnership. The relationship began when Jackie Cuddy, manager of The Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness, used Maggies Highlands. In her role as president of the Highlands Business Womens Club Jackie made Maggies Highlands their chosen charity for the full year and together they raised £7,000 for the centre. This money is very valuable as Maggies Highlands, in common with all Maggies Centres across the UK, is funded entirely by donations. The publicity that winning such a presigious award brings has raised the profile of the centre further and should result in support from the local business community over the coing months and years.
Carole is hugely passionate about the value of the centre and the principles of Maggies.
Carole started her career as a district nurse before specialising in cancer services as a Macmillan Nurse. Staying with Macmillan support, Carole became a Services Development Manager and later Nurse Director (of an NHS Cancer Network) before moving from North West England to Scotland when her husband retired. Not ready to take that step herself, Carole initially took a 6 month contract covering maternity leave for a colleague. Despite her wealth of experience in cancer services the first day of her contract was the first time Carole had set foot in a Maggies centre. Six months later she had become centre head – a role she described as her “dream job.” Certainly her passion and committment to the ideas and ideals of Maggies shone through as we sat in the cosy sitting room at the centre.
Carole feels that it is the community spirit within the Centre that makes it such a success. There are no nurses or doctors, the hospital itself provides excellent cancer treatment services, but the centre has a vast array of expertise nontheless – it lies with the patients themselves. When a diagnosis of cancer is made there is then a leap into the unknown for most people. The cancer services swing into action and treatments and therapies are organised. At a Maggies Centre people can talk to others with a shared experience and this is invaluable. For example, the length of a treatment programme can be daunting and it can be comforting to chat with someone nearing the end of the programme, to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. And even if you haven’t had cancer yourself or known someone who has, everyone knows that the side effects of chemotherapy can be difficult to cope with. By being able to share these experiences with someone who has been through the process can make the whole thing more tolerable. And as Carole is keen to point out, “…everything that happens in the centre stays in the centre.” I’m sure that most of us when visiting a doctor tend to put on a brave face. “Yes, I’m feeling a lot better doctor…” when we really feel awful but don’t want to make a fuss! In the centre it is OK to admit that you feel terrible…and that, odd as it may sound, can be a real relief!
As final confirmation of the friendly atmosphere I was not allowed to leave for home without joing the ladies at the kitchen table for a coffee and a scone! Thank you to Carole and to everyone at the Centre for their welcome and hospitality!