A Day In The Life Of A Maggie’s Care Centre

It is 8am and the director, Andrew Anderson, arrives to open the Edinburgh Maggie’s Centre. At 8:30 he has an appointment with a patient in haematology who is not allowed out of his hospital room. Before coming to Maggie’s six years ago, he worked as a nurse in oncology.

“My motivation for going into nursing was to provide support for people. But in oncology you are very busy and working with a lot of hi-tech treatments and don’t always have time,” says Andrew. “There’s a great sense of freedom working here. The service is based around individual experience.”

• 9:30am: Margaret Lockhart and her husband, Thomas, visit Maggie’s for the first time. Margaret, who has just been for a session of radiotherapy in the Western, says: “We have been going to come for ages, but you can be four or five hours in the clinic and by the time you finish you want to go home. It’s very homely in here. It’s like a living room. You don’t often speak to people who know exactly how you feel.”

• 10am: Ann Scott, of Edinburgh, has been to hospital for tests and comes in between appointments. “It’s the first time I have been in here for a long time and Andrew recognised me as soon as I came in,” she says. “You don’t get that in many places. I had a mastectomy in 1999 so I first came when the centre was new. I had reflexology here and someone came and massaged my feet before the operation. It’s the small things that make a difference. The cups and saucers are beautiful. You go to the loo and there’s hand cream. You feel you are not just a cog in the wheel of the NHS.”

• 11am: Briony Carr, fundraising manager, joins the group at the kitchen table, the centrepiece of every Maggie’s. “We have more than 17,000 visits to the centre every year,” she says. “All our services are free and we are 100 per cent community funded. We reckon each visit costs us £24 – which is why The Scotsman campaign is such a good thing for us.”

• 11:30am: Norma Andsell, of Edinburgh, and Norrie Brown, of Penicuik, have come for their support group. Afterwards they sit and talk over tea and biscuits. Norma says: “We tend to just sit and chat and have a grumble. You tend to talk more freely than you do at home. There’s a lot of empathy in this place; at home you tend to say you’re fine.” Norrie says: “This place is like a sanctuary for me. I have lung cancer and it took me a few times to come through the door, but it was the best thing I ever did.”

• 11:45am: Flick Thorpe, of West Linton, was a fundraiser for Maggie’s and brought her mother-in-law here so she knew where to come when she needed help: “It’s been two weeks since I was diagnosed and my biggest worry was how to talk to the children about it, so I came here to discuss that. I was due to go to South Africa on sabbatical for a year and I’ve made a rather huge decision to go ahead with it. I’d rather be somewhere warm than sit in the dark with my dreams shattered.”

Flick tells Norma and Norrie she will start chemotherapy in South Africa. Norma tells her: “It really isn’t as bad as you imagine.” Norrie says: “You are imagining the kind of treatment they had 20 years ago. Things are much better now.” Flick looks more relaxed.

• 12:30pm: Eight people have turned up for the relaxation and visualisation class, which takes place in a light-filled room full of bright cushions. Isabel Ryan, who is taking the class, says: “When I started here, I hadn’t come across relaxation techniques before and now I’m teaching it. It’s been a huge experience for me learning about stress and the effect it has on you physically and emotionally. Something like an experience of cancer can be the very last straw for a lot of people. Some people say to you: ‘I haven’t got time for cancer’. That’s a real eye-opener.”

• 1pm: Betty McLean has been to the relaxation class and is now chatting to other users. She makes sure anyone who walks through the door is offered a cup of tea or coffee and given a warm welcome: “The first time I came here was ten years ago on the day the centre officially opened. I was being treated in the Western at the time. Then my husband had lung cancer. He died 18 months ago. The centre helped me tremendously and now I lend a hand sometimes.”

• 1:30pm: Wendy Middleton has been brought from the hospital in a wheelchair with a morphine drip in the pocket of her dressing gown. She is in pain but looks calmer after the visualisation. She makes people laugh telling them about the Look Good, Feel Better class she came to recently. “They gave us a wonderful goodie bag full of products. My daughter was after it – and I told her: No, this is for me.”

• 2pm: Andrew and Isobel are enjoying their sandwiches up in the office. “It’s important to have a proper break,” says Andrew. Maggie’s is a relaxed environment, but working there can take its toll emotionally and staff take time out for regular staff support meetings.

• 3pm: Things are quieter at Maggie’s in the afternoon. The busiest time is mornings, when the hospital holds oncology clinics. In the afternoons, staff often see people for individual sessions, to offer support, counselling, benefits advice and to discuss treatment options. Marjorie Chapman has been chatting to a member of staff. She says: “My husband died of cancer and I had cancer myself last year as well. I had nursed him for eight years. He died when I was having chemotherapy.

“I wasn’t ready to come at the time it all happened. I think I thought I should be strong enough to do everything myself. Everybody here is so welcoming and accepting. You can sit at the kitchen table and cry your eyes out and nobody will look at you and make a fuss. Sometimes that is just what you need.”

• 5pm: It’s dark outside and Andrew closes up the Maggie’s Centre after another busy day. Around 50 people have been through the doors today, some of them new, some of them old friends. People have picked up leaflets, shared their fears, met new friends and had a laugh around the kitchen table. As everyone will tell you, it’s often the simplest things that make the biggest difference. Agnes Stevenson, of Edinburgh, who came for the first time, says: “People are lovely here. Everyone is friendly. It’s just what you need.”