The cancer centre where people have time to sit, listen and help

The new Maggie's in Larbert will help countless cancer sufferers over the years. Picture: Michael Gillen
The new Maggie's in Larbert will help countless cancer sufferers over the years. Picture: Michael Gillen
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After a lifetime in the NHS caring for others, Liz MacMillan is looking forward to taking on her new role in the third sector.

A highly experienced oncology nurse, she is the centre head for Maggie’s Forth Valley.

Nina Barough opened the Nina Barough building not knowing it was going to be named after her. Picture: Michael Gillen

Nina Barough opened the Nina Barough building not knowing it was going to be named after her. Picture: Michael Gillen

Her remit when it opens to the public today (Thursday) will be all encompassing: everything from offering help and support to people using the building to ensuring it is maintained.

She said: “It’s definitely going to be a very busy role but one that I’m very happy to have.

“I’m probably most looking forward to being back hands on with patients – seeing people when they are newly diagnosed and making a difference to their journey.”

A Macmillan nurse since 1992, like many people as they progress through management there are fewer opportunities to do what they actually came in to the job for.

Liz added: “I feel that I’m getting back to doing what I do best and that is what attracted me to this job. It will be seeing people who drop in to the centre and helping them get to where they need to be.

“That’s something which in a busy oncology unit it’s not always able to offer.

“However, Maggie’s will work hand-in-hand with the hospital and the good thing is that we know each other which will make partnership working easier.”

Forth Valley Maggie’s will have its doors open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. People can be referred by health professionals, including GPs, but they can also drop in without an appointment to find out how the services it offers can help.

And the centre isn’t only for those who have been diagnosed with cancer, as it also provides support for relatives trying to come to terms with what the future may hold.

“That’s the beauty of Maggie’s,” said Liz. “Anyone can pop in and will be welcomed. We have a beautiful, quiet and calm environment where people can talk and we will listen.

“A lot of people come to Maggie’s after they have lost a loved one and want to talk. With the best will in the world, the staff at Forth Valley Royal, who do a wonderful job, don’t have the luxury of the amount of time that we can offer.”

Joining her on the team shortly will be a benefits advisor who will work full-time providing people with information and advice to help them with their entitlement.

Psychologist Robin Parkinson will also be dealing with people in one-to-one situations, including stress management and mindfulness, to help them cope with what is happening to them and to their loved ones.

Every Maggie’s centre is unique in both its setting and design, but one thing they all have in common is the kitchen table.

The large piece of furniture is central to the whole building – a focal point where people can gather.

“It’s a social space where you can have people sitting at one end laughing about something, but at the other end people are in deep discussion,” said the centre boss. “People will listen to others and understand what they are going through.

“We will be able to connect with people and they will know that we can make a difference.

“No two days in the centre will be the same and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to – just going with the flow.”

Liz added: “Maggie’s is a crucial place and although people may know something about us, many don’t understand all that we offer.

“It’s all about making sure that people with cancer are offered practical and emotional support to help them deal with the diagnosis.

“They will come from different backgrounds and walks of life. Understandably their family and friends may find it difficult to cope and we have the time to focus on them.”

Before the opening of Maggie’s Forth Valley, anyone wanting to benefit from the charity’s service had to travel to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Kirkcaldy.

“Many people undergoing treatment or who have recently completed their course will be feeling fatigued. The knowledge that they no longer have to make a journey will make a huge difference to them.

“Maggie’s Forth Valley will provide them with that lifeline to support closer to home.”

The woman who inspired a new approach to cancer care

The desire not to “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying” helped inspire Maggie Keswick Jencks to develop a new approach to cancer care.

In May 1993 she was told her breast cancer had returned and was given two to three months to live.

She joined an advanced chemotherapy trial and lived for another 18 months. During that time, she and her husband Charles Jencks worked closely with her medical team, which included oncology nurse, Laura Lee, now Maggie’s chief executive, to create the first centre which would bear her name at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.

She envisaged the centre would be a place were people would be helped to cope with the disease and to fight it.

Maggie, a mother of two, was insistent that the centre should be a place of calm beauty.

Maggie’s Forth Valley is the 20th centre to be opened.