WHEN Lesley Stephen visited her GP three years ago with a persistent cough, she was sure it was a simple case of adult asthma, or maybe even a chest infection.
What the 51-year-old could never have predicted was that the news would unfortunately be much worse – she had Stage Four breast cancer and there was no cure.
The disease had already spread to Lesley’s liver, bones and lungs and doctors said she would need to start treatment immediately.
But it was while waiting to start chemotherapy that Lesley was dealt a “lifeline” – her first visit to Maggie’s.
Now she is calling on readers to back our Buy A Brick campaign, which has seen the Evening News team up with fundraiser Lisa Stephenson to help fund a much-needed extension to the Edinburgh Maggie’s Centre.
And it was Lisa who put Lesley in touch with the charity in the first place, Lesley explained.
“I’d been told a few days earlier the news and was in complete shock,” she said. “It feels like you’ve been punched in the stomach – I didn’t know where to turn, had no idea what to do.
“She [Lisa] said I’ve got an appointment with Andy [Edinburgh centre head Andrew Anderson] at Maggie’s, you take it, and that was my first experience.
“Going back to that time, that day, it was amazing seeing him. I could barely talk because I was coughing so much – the cancer got worse very quickly – and he just gave me hope and reassured me.”
Ever since then Lesley, her husband Doug and their four children have not looked back, with Maggie’s there to support them every step of the way.
Lesley said: “It was like a turning point. Throughout my chemotherapy that I had the rest of the year I was [there] all the time with questions – questions about treatment, about side effects, about how to talk to my consultant, about whether I had any hope – was I going to die, was I going to live?
“I always came out feeling so much better and it was a lifeline for us.”
It was during Lesley’s treatment that further tragedy struck after her mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer and subsequently passed away.
But with centres all over the country, Maggie’s was able to help again – this time in Glasgow.
Before her diagnosis in March 2014, Lesley admitted she knew little about cancer and relied on Maggie’s for help understanding the disease and the different options for treatment.
“That’s something I hadn’t expected, just the level of medical knowledge – they are experts in cancer,” she said.
“I knew nothing about the world of cancer three years ago, nothing at all. You’re thrown into this medical world and I found Maggie’s helped us navigate through all of that.”
A clinical trial has given Lesley a new lease of life and she is now appealing for anyone who can to support the campaign to extend Maggie’s in Edinburgh.
The centre was built at the Western General Hospital in memory of landscape architect Maggie Keswick Jencks, who wanted to transform cancer care after she was left to process a terminal cancer diagnosis in a hospital corridor.
It is hoped the £1.2 million extension, which will include the creation of three new therapy rooms and extensions to the gardens, will help the centre see an additional 5000 patients a year.
Lesley added: “The footfall is growing and growing. Given that more people seem to be getting diagnosed it’s just really important.
“I can’t imagine actually how people cope without a Maggie’s centre to come to, I honestly can’t.
“Since I started on my own journey a lot of people – friends of friends who get a diagnosis – ask me what they should do.
“The first thing I say is come down and speak to somebody at Maggie’s.”