Friday 25 Jun 2021
In 2020, Alyson was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just months later, her son, Niall, was also told he had cancer. Here, she describes her shock on hearing her son's diagnosis and how Maggie's became an 'oasis of calm in the turbulence of life with cancer'.
On a Monday in late March, I made my first visit to Maggie’s Southampton.
I had just finished my last cycle of chemotherapy. But as much as the visit was about me managing my own cancer, it was also about my son. It had been quite a year: in September I was diagnosed with lung cancer and then in December my youngest son, Niall, was also diagnosed with cancer.
His diagnosis left me in disbelief. What are the chances of that happening?
After some research, I was relieved to find that Niall’s treatment had excellent outcomes: that took away some of the strain. I think that it helped him to be following a process that he had recently witnessed. There was a bit of camaraderie between us both.
My cancer was found early and I had a lobectomy in November. A lymph node was affected and removed, so adjuvant chemotherapy was recommended.
My first chemotherapy session took place the day my son had his operation.
Unfortunately, later scans showed that some of his lymph nodes were affected; his first cycle of chemotherapy began the day I started my final cycle.
Having a three-month start on him made a huge difference but there were times when I physically could not help him.
Sometimes our treatments clashed and we had to rely hugely on the kindness of family and friends. Mentally I think it helped me to have someone else to think about rather than just fret about me.
Watching Niall go through treatment was tough, but having got through my own, I knew that his too would pass.
We live 40 minutes away from the hospital, so on the days when Niall had many hours of treatment, I would drop him off, go home, and return for him at the end of the day.
On the days when he was down for a one-hour session, I would sit in the car in the car park to wait.
Niall’s treatment rarely ended when scheduled and together with the return journey time, this meant I was in the car for several hours. The nurses in the hospital suggested I go to Maggie’s and arranged for me to do so the next time Niall was at the hospital.
I had not heard of Maggie’s, and though I must have driven past it several times on my own visits to the hospital, it would have been a building site then.
I wasn’t sure if it was my kind of place.
I am quite an independent person and I felt I had my own support network, but the nurses had been kind to arrange the visit and I went. To be honest, the access to a toilet was a big draw!
Gus, a Maggie's Cancer Support Specialist, met me at the door and welcomed me by name.
On that first visit, I was a bit nervous. I didn’t know what was expected of me or what they knew of our circumstances. But Gus was lovely, and he just provided hospitality, a space to talk without interrogation. Due to coronavirus, access was by appointment only and on that occasion, I was the only visitor.
My first reaction was to the building and space which is impressive. From the car park it does not look big but inside it seems very spacious.
I did not want the sympathy of strangers or to engage in “counselling” and was dubious about what I would get from the visit, but Gus was just welcoming, matter-of-fact and so easy to talk with.
The staff all have professional experience with cancer and so by the time I left, I viewed Maggie’s as an additional tool to use.
On subsequent visits, I have noticed that no one is left to find their own way in - there always seems to be someone at hand to make them welcome.
You are always greeted, offered a drink and given the opportunity to share how you’re feeling. But if you don’t want to talk about cancer, that’s fine. I’ve discussed labradors with Gilly, and a new car with Abbie.
It is difficult to describe the scope of what Maggie’s offers, it can be as basic as a cup of tea, or a space to allow someone on treatment to stop worrying about the driver waiting for them.
I can find out lots about cancer on the internet but it helps to know the questions to ask and Maggie’s supplies that – with access to their library, the support groups and activities they run, but most of all it extends to the team’s professionalism.
Perhaps the thing that stands out for me is that they are hugely supportive in a way that a friends and family network can’t. It’s not that the staff don’t care; they do, but they accept the situation honestly and ask what you want to do about it, and then they support you in doing it.
Maggie’s gives me peace of mind that there is somewhere to turn to when I might need it.
Knowing that psychological support is there is such a help. Even on days when you don’t need it, it is very comforting to know that it is there.
To me, Maggie’s is a place where I do not have to filter how I am feeling or the latest news on my treatment. I can speak honestly and not worry about the impact my words will have, in the knowledge that the response will be appropriate. The best-intentioned friends aren’t always ready for the truth and can sometimes say the most foolish things.
I'd encourage others to make contact with Maggie's as soon as they first hear about their cancer.
Diagnosis is just the first step of a long process, there is so much to discover and you can’t take it all in at once.
It’s not a linear journey, and your need for information leaps about.
You may go to a consultation prepared with your list of questions, but often, the follow-up questions come to you after.
You can read the leaflets, research, talk to friends and family, and all that is good, but it will help to talk to professionals and the Maggie’s always seem to have time to talk to you about whatever is on your mind, step by step through your journey.
It’s not all about treatment; at Maggie’s you’ll find patients and their families sharing stories and information about cancer as well as talking about their weekend, signing up for classes, and laughing.
If you don’t want to join in then no one will mind - you will be welcomed and left to have a cup of tea, read a book or just gather your thoughts.
I'd sum Maggie’s up as an oasis of calm in the turbulence of life with cancer.
We can support you wherever you are, please call us on 0300 123 180, email firstname.lastname@example.org or just come in.
Last review: Jun 2023 | Next review: Jan 2024
To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.
Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.Sign up