Mind your language over cancer, says Blue Peter star

Janet Ellis hosts a pilot workshop for Maggies
Janet Ellis hosts a pilot workshop for Maggies
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A cancer charity has teamed up with a former Blue Peter presenter to design a workshop aimed at changing the language around the illness.

Maggie’s, which opened its first centre in Edinburgh 21 years ago, is to roll out a creative writing workshop devised in part by former presenter Janet Ellis.

The workshops, which are themed “the Power of Words”, are for anyone living with cancer who would like to explore ideas around positive and negative words, the role they play in an experience of cancer and how writing can help people come to terms with the emotions involved in a diagnosis.

Ellis, whose mother died at the age of 57 from cancer, said she had a problem with some of the language used around the illness.

She said: “I have a particular problem with ‘battle’. I lost my mother to cancer when she was quite young and I’ve lost friends. I think people fall back on something if it feels convenient, if it’s a phrase they’ve heard others use or they assume it’s the way it’s spoken about.”

Ellis said she did not “personally feel that people fight their cancer”, adding: “I think there’s a battleground and it happens over you and your doctors, if anyone, are the ones who are doing the fighting. But having said that, one of the people in the workshop said, ‘Oh I like to think of myself as a fighter’ – so it’s entirely personal.”

Ellis hosted a pilot workshop in the Maggie’s West London centre on National Writing Day on 21 June.

She added: “To be honest when I was first approached to work for Maggie’s I’d never heard of it.

“But the minute they outlined the way they work and what they offer – it was a no-brainer.

“If something like that had been around for my mum or my friend Karen it would have been brilliant.

“I do think it’s an extraordinary group and entirely sensible service.”

Maggie’s Centre chief operating officer Ann-Louise Ward said: “When it comes to cancer there seems to be a separate language. Words and phrases such as ‘fight’, ‘survivor’ or ‘be positive’ are often quoted around people with cancer. The effects are almost always detrimental.

“They can also make conversations with their nearest and dearest deeply uncomfortable.

“Language matters and words do mean something. They affect our subconscious.”

The workshops are backed by the People’s Postcode Lottery. Since 2007 Maggie’s has received more than 
£9 million from players. The funds help in allowing the charity to provide its free programme of support, which is designed to help people live well with cancer.