As it is World Cancer Day I thought it would be fitting to continue ‘The C Word’ series. This second instalment is about a charity which first opened a centre in Edinburgh in 1996 using the ideas of Maggie Keswick Jencks surrounding the care for cancer patients and those effected by the impact of cancer.
Before having personal experience with the effects of cancer I had never heard of Maggie’s or what the charity stood for. Upon struggling with dealing with the anxiety and depression battling cancer my Mum was introduced to Maggie’s for support. The charity offers free emotional and practical support to cancer patients as well as their family and friends.
At Maggie’s there is a variety of services provided including professional support, groups, workshops and classes. Some of the classes Maggie’s offer include mens only groups, yoga, sleep workshops, hair loss workshops, nutrition workshops and creative writing. I remember my Mum attending a makeup workshop where she attended a masterclass to learn new skills and techniques. Seeing as cancer and treatment can have a huge impact on your physical appearance this class pushed self love and confidence. Although it was teaching how to apply makeup, it wasn’t about covering up their illness, it was allowing women to feel ‘normal’ and more like themselves before the dark circles appeared following chemo. I remember how excited my Mum was that she got to keep some products from the workshop. She sat with me, showing and telling me her newly learnt techniques. It was the first time in a while that I had seen my Mum passionate about something, reverting back to the talkative person she usually was.
Aside from the workshops and groups, for emotional and mental support my Mum received counselling and therapy from a psychologist. Maggie’s enabled her to access this easily without having to go through referrals or a hospital environment which can make a huge difference especially when you are receiving treatment, up and down the hospital just as much as the nurses working there. The way the centres are built and furnished truly demonstrate the aim and the aura Maggie’s wants to create. Our local Maggie’s is open and light with separate rooms for privacy or communal areas like the kitchen where anyone is free to sit for a coffee and a chat. There is nothing clinical about how the building is designed in the slightest, filled with homely features and welcoming faces.
Towards the end of my Mums illness, continuing through her recovery and then eventually after my Dad’s diagnosis, I also had the support of a psychologist in order to help me understand everything I was trying to process. Having someone to talk to and vent to, someone who wouldn’t judge but understood the mixture of emotions I had inside of me was exactly what I needed. To this day when I go to meet my psychologist I have no idea what I am going to say but she has mastered the way I think to a T, often knowing more about what I’m thinking than I do. She allows me to properly delve into the root of any thought or emotion, showing how it is effecting me and then guiding me to process it in a way that is personal to me. Our 45 minute sessions are always filled to the brim as both conscious and sub-conscious feelings are released from me. I once said to my Mum that before a session I feel like a blank drawing by numbers, but afterwards, all of the dots are connected. Minds are complex things but my psychologist has mastered mine. I always feel about 2 stone lighter walking back to my car after a session.
The amount of gratitude I have for the support my family has received from Maggie’s is immense. During the years where I felt as if I had no one to turn to or no friends who understood, the people of Maggie’s were there listening, never judging or pitying. To this day when I walk into my local Maggie’s centre I feel at ease knowing I am in a safe place where even though cancer is the reason we are all there, the atmosphere and mood is never depressing or sad. It is a place where everyone effected by cancer comes together as people and not just because of an illness. Yes it helps to have people who are in a similar situation to you and with similar health worries but it is also nice to sit down with people for a chat or participate in a group where people aren’t struggling what to say to you or tiptoeing on egg shells in fear of saying something wrong. At Maggie’s it feels like there is an understanding that cancer is a part of your life but it doesn’t define it. It is somewhere that you can feel most human – someone who still stresses about what to wear, when to do the shopping or help the kids with their homework – but is also dealing with a horrible disease. In my opinion it is the best of both worlds as you get the professional support to help you cope but also make friends and bonds with people who don’t just look at you and see a disease, they see a person still with interests and a day-to-day life wanting to live life to the full.
Here is where you can find out about Maggie’s: https://www.maggiescentres.org/about-maggies/
Here is where you can donate: https://www.maggiescentres.org/how-you-can-help/ways-give/