30 years of pioneering cancer support

Victoria Todd with a patient

Victoria Todd with a patient

A charity that pioneered support services for breast cancer patients in the UK is gearing up to celebrate its 30th anniversary in the New Year.

Based at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, Cancerkin provides a range of therapies, classes and support groups free of charge as part of its mission to ‘treat the patient, not just the cancer’.

Earlier this year it merged with Maggie’s, a charity with a similar philosophy, and is now open to people with any form of cancer.

“It is pretty damned lonely when you are out there on your own with a diagnosis and we are here to offer emotional and practical support,” said chief executive Victoria Todd.

“It is completely open ended and we never turn people away once they’ve had all their treatment or been given the all-clear – that is the time when they can feel at their most lonely or frightened.”

Around 100 women pass through Cancerkin’s doors every week, among them a centenarian who joined 30 years ago and still attends its yoga class. Its youngest patient was aged just 18 when she first came along.

As an independent body, it welcomes people receiving treatment at any London hospital, not only the Royal Free.

The charity was founded in January 1987 by Santilal Parbhoo, who as one of the country’s leading breast surgeons is credited with transforming the treatment of breast cancer at the hospital.

Cancerkin became home to the country’s first clinic to treat breast cancer-related lymphoedema and piloted America’s Look Good, Feel Better’ cosmetics workshops for women who suffered hair loss or skin damage during treatment. It is now a hugely successful franchise operating in hospitals nationwide.

After starting out in a small room equipped with just a desk, a telephone and a filing cabinet, a purpose built centre was opened in 1994 following a fund raising drive headed by the actor Tom Conti. This enabled it to increase its activities and it now offers 14 one-to-one or group therapies five days a week, among them tuina massage and tai chi.

“We describe our therapies as complementary rather than alternative because we work with clinicians,” explained  Todd, who joined the charity eight years ago.

Her time at the helm has seen an expansion of services but coincided with a harshening financial climate that places minnow charities like Cancerkin at a disadvantage when it comes to support from grant giving bodies.

“It’s getting really tough out there,” she said. “When funders are saying they’re having a bad year, then you know there’s a problem. Would Cancerkin still have been able to compete with the bigger charities for funding in the long run? The answer is no, hence our merger with Maggie’s.”

Now known as Maggie’s at the Cancerkin Centre, the charity plans to move to bespoke premises to be built on land at the rear of the hospital within the next few years.

Meanwhile, a number of fundraising events is being planned, among them a  performance of  The Barber of Seville  by the Pop-up Opera in February and the annual Hampstead Heath Walk later in the year.

For more details about Maggie’s at the Cancerkin Centre telephone 0207 830 2323  

This article appeared in the Islington Tribune on November 24, 2016   


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