27/03/2013 13:53 GMT | Updated 27/05/2013 06:12 BST

Cancer: Don't Lose the Joy of Living in the Fear of Dying


It's hard to make that a word with any sort of positive association.

But in fact it's a word that has changed in meaning. No longer does it mean certain death or disability. Today more than 60% of people will live longer than five years after their treatment has finished.

Cancer is no longer a taboo subject but it does need to be talked about and given a different type of support. With cancer there is so much uncertainty; will this treatment work? Will my cancer return? How will it affect my fertility, weight, sexuality? Why is it so different for one person than another? Why do I feel so depressed even though my body is now 'cancer free?' Do I really want to keep living the life I had now I know I am mortal?

These are all questions that Maggie Keswick Jencks wanted answered in a way that made sense to her. Maggie was given her advanced cancer diagnosis by a consultant who had no time to explain more than the medical support she would be given. He could not help her with the psychological effect of her diagnosis because that was, quite rightly, not his job. But Maggie was determined that there should be a place for people to go that offered the emotional, practical and social support she so badly felt she needed. And she wanted it somewhere that felt uplifting and beautiful, not depressing and institutional.


Maggies Centre, Dundee

Maggie died 18 years ago with the blueprint on her bed of what would become our first Maggie's Centre in Edinburgh. A place, she felt, that would help people with cancer "not to lose the joy of living, in the fear of dying".

As we come again to the First Women Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group, I can't help thinking of Maggie. I was her chemotherapy nurse and throughout her last few months she would not let go of the ideas that were driving her.

She wanted it to be so much better for others at a time that was so bad for her. Who could be more inspirational than someone who laid down an idea for a different model of cancer care that puts the individual first? That allows people with cancer to make choices about what will best support them: Nutrition classes? Benefits advice? A kitchen table where you can sit with other people who understand? A place to remember that there is life outside cancer.

Today there are 16 Maggies Centres across the UK, designed by extraordinary architects like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers, all of whom were inspired by Maggie's vision. These buildings and the professional staff who run them have given thousands and thousands of people with cancer and their families and friends the emotional, social and practical support they needed. All because of one woman called Maggie.

Laura Lee was shortlisted for the 2012 First Women Awards.

For further information click here.

The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.