This is me with my adorable friend Vivia last summer. We had been friends for 27 years. Viv died a year ago.
Melanoma had spread through her body into her brain. She was only diagnosed after a seizure which caused brain damage. We were told she had only days to live. Her sudden illness came as a huge shock. Thankfully she lived over 5 months longer than predicted, and her friends got to show her how loved she was.
Her brain damage affected her short term memory so to begin with she couldn't remember where she was or why she was there for longer than a few minutes. She had become weak and struggled to walk. But her lovable personality, long term memory and love of hot chilli sauce was intact.
One of the organisations that help to support her (and her friends) was Maggie's - a charity which supports cancer patients throughout treatment and remission.
At the end of September I'll be taking part in Maggie's Culture Crawl, a 10 mile walk around London - as a way to remember my friend and to raise money for the organisation. Here's a link to my JustGiving Page.
Last July Viv was receiving Neuro Rehab at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, (the 3rd London Hospital in as many months). Here was our first contact with Maggie's. Nicky, a specialist nurse at the Royal Marsden had recommended it, but we had no idea what to expect - at the edge of noisy carpark, with the concrete hospital towering above, we found The Maggie's Centre - a glowing bright orange cube with a nod to Zen temples, a beautiful contrast to the grey hospital.
The sight of the of the beautifully designed space was instantly uplifting, and the friendly staff made us feel welcome. They calmly described the range of supportive activities and therapies they offered to anyone with cancer, but most importantly at the time, they gave us a safe space outside the hospital to sit quietly and drink tea. I was so happy that such a place existed.
The idea of Maggie's was born in a dark hospital corridor just after Maggie and her husband Charles had received the news that Maggie's cancer was terminal, the doctor had to move them on to see his next patient - Maggie felt things could be done better, that people needed somewhere peaceful and supportive to go when faced with cancer, somewhere comforting and safe to ask questions and express their feelings, where people had more time. Maggie survived over a year longer than predicted and had the plans for the first centre almost finished when she died.
Maggie and her husband Charles Jencks knew the importance of good design, she was a scholar of Chinese gardens and Charles Jencks a landscape gardener - they believed in the healing power of great architecture. Since the first centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996 twenty centres across the UK have opened, some of the world’s leading architects have been involved.
Images above courtesy of Maggie’s.
After being discharged from hospital, Maggie's at Addenbrooke’s here in Cambridge continued to help. They offered therapeutic activities and a place to talk, we went to a friendly art group and were given practical advice. We we're looking forward to going to yoga classes, nutritional groups, but it wasn't to be.
Like Maggie - Viv also did better that anyone could have predicted, but the drugs that had been reversing the cancer stopped working and we lost Viv in September 2017.
Viv’s early life was spent in Thailand with her father who had been a Buddhist monk for 20 years. It was clear she had been steeped in a philosophy that taught compassion, and a peaceful acceptance of suffering and death. She remained inspiringly calm and lovable throughout her illness.
Maggie’s Cambridge is housed in an unremarkable residential flat, but I’ve just heard that Cambridge University Hospital has given land for a purpose built centre, fundraising will start for the building project next year. I’m hoping it will be as amazing as the centre we first visited in Hammersmith. It’s the people who run the centres who make them so important but the buildings make them exceptional.