ANYONE who has taken the maze of corridors from the main reception at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford, to cancer support charity Maggie’s Oxford will understand one of the main reasons why a new centre is being built.
It took the Oxford Mail team 10 minutes to navigate a set of instructions to a portable building at the southern end of the sprawling hospital, which specialises in cancer services and other clinical areas like dermatology, haemophilia, infectious diseases and chest medicine.
The old Maggie's Oxford building
A new Maggie’s centre – built to resemble a treehouse – will improve its visibility when it opens opposite the main hospital entrance in September with four consulting rooms, a kitchen and toilet.
The new centre is designed to look like a treehouse
The centre currently gets 7,000 visits a year but head Claire Marriott said: “I think we will double that when we are in a more accessible location.
“Imagine if you couldn’t get your breath and you are getting really poorly?
“ Some have said they have turned around in the corridor because it’s too much.”
The need for the centre – the national charity’s 18th – is obvious. While Oxford has one of England’s largest hospital authorities, the emotional distress and practical support needed outstrips the ability of staff whose primary role is to care for the physical health of patients.
Some 5,000 people are diagnosed with cancer by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, every year.
Maggie’s Centres are based on the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by sufferer Maggie Keswick Jencks.
The five volunteers and five staff at Maggie’s are made up of two clinical psychologists, including Dr Marriott, a nutritional adviser, fundraiser and cancer support adviser and give help with everything from claiming benefits to Tai Chi and workshops on living with uncertainty.
At the heart of the centre is the ability to meet others in the same situation, whether facing, battling or recovering from cancer, or supporting friends and relatives. All are welcome to drop in from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Dr Marriott said: “People constantly tell us the atmosphere is very welcoming but it will become a place where people want to spend a bit more time.”
With its back to the hospital and with views over Warneford Meadow, she believes the new building will be an “oasis of tranquility”.
Dr Marriott said: “We’ve been waiting a long time now, we can’t wait. It’s going to allow us to expand the programme of support we offer and meet the needs of even more people.
“People can access information which might be about the treatment. A big part is to offer support to people who are distressed by what is happening to them and to talk through the impact it’s having on their lives and the lives of others.
“Cancer affects the body image, it can affect relationships and people struggle with living with the uncertainty about what the future may hold.
“People may end up with financial difficulties and have to really adjust their lifestyle. That is a really important part, if the financial situation isn’t sorted it is hard to deal with anything else.”
The informal, drop-in setting – including a kitchen table for people to pull up a chair and have a hot drink – is vital, she said, and the centre will be able to help about 100 people a day.
The timber design by Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling prize winners Wilkinson Eyre will include a standalone kitchen, rather than one in the corner of the current main room, and a bigger space for classes like Tai Chi.
Work started 12 months ago and the centre has been funded by individual donations and fundraising.
This has included former patients doing charity runs and advance screening of director Richard Curtis’s movie About Time at Jericho’s Phoenix Picturehouse last August, which raised £6,000.
Alan Jackson, of Jacksons Building Contractors, with Dr Marriott
Alan Jackson, leading the work for Jacksons Building Contractors, said the 240sqm building couldn’t be more different from the current, boxy centre and proudly explains the therapeutic benefits of decking on the far side that will overlook the meadow.
He said: “It has been a joy for the architects.”
‘It’s like having a big arm cuddling you’
DAWN Towell and Jacqui Hepher have both overcome breast cancer and helped each other with the emotional upheaval of confronting the disease.
Over a coffee with her friend last week, Jacqui, 61, from Abingdon, said: “It’s like having a big arm cuddling you and protecting you. It’s a very safe place, my haven.”
DAWN Towell, right, and Jacqui Hepher, left,
Diagnosed in January 2012, she had two lumpectomies and found Maggie’s a vital source of help when she had to give up her corporate travel consultant job for nine weeks last September.
The mum-of-one said: “I was trying to work full-time and go for treatment. I was trying to do everything and it got too much.
“I had to give my body a complete and utter rest. I have been through quite a few of the workshops, they help with getting through the stress management. It gives you a calmness to be able to cope with everything.”
Advisers helped her with sick pay forms too, she said.
Miss Towell, 50, from Woodstock, was diagnosed in September and had a double mastectomy three months later.
She said: “I will come for a while. It has changed my whole life now. I’m going to study acupuncture because I want to help others. Maggie’s has been amazing. To get to this oasis of calm in a portable building is even more amazing.
“Your whole life changes in an instant the moment you get diagnosed.
“Once you’ve got treatment it is like a ticking timebomb if it will come back. It is a massive stress.”
She added: “When you come here, everybody knows where you’re coming from. It’s a cushion for everyone.”
A VERY NECESSARY SERVICE
Liz Minton was the centre’s first director when it opened in 2004, having run the Churchill’s previous Abernethy Cancer Information Centre from 2001.
The former teacher and social worker, 64, from Oxford, stepped down in 2010 but still volunteers.
She said: “It has been a very necessary service. We have been able to support a lot of people and families.
“We have been able to work hand in glove with the health service.
“The health service is very supportive of what we do.”