30 years of pioneering cancer support
Anniversary for charity based at Royal Free Hospital that ‘treats the patient, not the cancer’
29 November, 2016 — By Angela Cobbinah
Cancerkin chief executive 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 Hampstead, 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 Tui na massage and tai chi.
“We describe our therapies as complementary rather than alternative, because we work with clinicians,” explained Ms Todd, who joined the charity eight years ago. Her time at the helm has seen an expansion of services but it coincided with a harshening financial climate that places minnow charities such as Cancerkin at a disadvantage when it comes to support from grant-giving bodies.
“It’s getting really tough out there,” said Ms Todd. “Would Cancerkin still have been able to compete with the bigger charities for funding in the long-run? I saw the writing on the wall four years ago and 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 are 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, call 020 7830 2323.