How cancer hero Maggie made it all possible

Maggie Keswick Jencks, pictured, worked to transform cancer care for patients

Maggie Keswick Jencks, pictured, worked to transform cancer care for patients

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THE chief executive of a cancer charity which opened its very first centre in Edinburgh has paid tribute to the woman who made it all possible.

Maggie’s started life with its first centre at the Western General Hospital in 1996 and now has 19 centres offering patients vital emotional support across the UK and abroad.

The pioneering Edinburgh centre was established 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.

She is fondly remembered by the charity’s chief executive, Laura Lee, who first met Maggie while working as an oncology nurse at the Western General.

“[Maggie] was a very bright, sparkling, energetic, energising person,” she said.

“She sat in the waiting area waiting for her chemo and used that time to not just think about her own experience but to listen, talk and engage with others.”

But as well as her bubbly personality, Laura explained Maggie was a “challenging” patient who kept staff on their toes.

She said: “At the time the internet was just beginning to come in.

“She was well informed about treatment options so for us in the clinical team she was an early exposure to the well informed, articulate patient.

“She gave us a window into where cancer care is today where people want to understand about their treatment options and choices.

“Maggie was a pioneer for that and I’m really grateful for that because she got us ahead of the curve of thinking it was OK to talk to the patient, to share detailed information with them and that you could support them in being a well informed patient and a participant in their care.”

However, Laura said she suspected Maggie would never have anticipated her idea would have grown to become the charity that exists today.

“[Maggie] was a very humble person,” she explained.

“I don’t think she would have envisaged the growth of Maggie’s.

“She would have been astonished by the fact so many other people came on board to help make it possible.

“I think Maggie has inspired others that they can make a difference.”

And among those who have been inspired is Edinburgh fundraiser Lisa Stephenson, who has teamed up with the Evening News for our Buy A Brick for Maggie’s campaign.

The drive aims to raise £750,000 for a much-needed extension at the Maggie’s centre in a bid to help an additional 5000 patients each year.

Laura said the reaction to the campaign had been “amazing” and that the ability to help more people had never been more important.

She added: “What we know is more people are being diagnosed with cancer and more people are also interested in what they can do to help themselves to reduce the risk of cancer.

“I think Maggie’s has more need now and it’s going to be more needed over the next 20 years than she [Maggie] recognised or knew.”

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk