MAGGIE'S Centres have come a long way since the first centre was built in the grounds of Edinburgh's Western General Hospital ten years ago. The opening of the Fife centre, at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, means Scotland is fortunate enough to have five centres providing psychological, emotional and practical support to the 26,000 Scots who are diagnosed with cancer each year - and the family and friends who support them.
My relationship with Maggie's Centres started more than four years ago. I was already familiar with the existing centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow and the high esteem in which they were held. I remember being really impressed by the fact Maggie's Centres are invited to build centres by local NHS Trusts on their sites to complement the medical treatment administered in the hospital.
Anybody that has been affected by cancer - in any way - thinks that the service that Maggie's offers makes absolute sense, so I was naturally delighted when I heard of plans for Fife to have its own unique centre alongside the ones that, at the time, were planned, and now are fully functional, in Dundee and the Highlands.
The world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid has designed the Fife centre with the visitor in mind. Maggie's Centres are always remarkable in nature. Often, it is the design and layout of the building that momentarily distracts visitors from the impact of a cancer diagnosis.
Zaha, an Iraqi-born British citizen, is known for consistently pushing the boundaries of architecture and design and was the first woman recipient of the highly coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004.
The Fife centre is Zaha's first design to be built in the UK - so it is a real coup for the area. Though her design is unique, visitors will be able to access the same programme of support available in each Maggie's Centre in an uplifting and relaxing environment, where a communal kitchen area forms the heart of the centre - where people are free to make a hot drink, dip into the biscuit tin and have a good natter. Intelligent design also means that visitors can break off into private spaces for private conversations with a cancer support specialist or bigger spaces for group sessions, which include relaxation, nutritional and peer-support sessions.
With more than one in three people being diagnosed with cancer in the UK, sadly we all know somebody who has been affected. Anyone who has personally experienced the programme of support that Maggie's offers wishes it was available to everyone wherever cancer is diagnosed.
With plans afoot to build seven centres in England and Wales in the next five years, this hope might one day become a reality, bringing Maggie's network of centres to 12 in total throughout the UK. Maggie's Centres, built on the vision of one woman personally affected by cancer, Maggie Keswick Jencks, is a Scottish success story.
My commitment to the organisation continues to grow as its network of centres expands. I have been privileged enough to witness for myself some of the amazing conversations that take place within these remarkable spaces - visitors often comment that they regain some control in their lives and experience a sense of a cloud being lifted after visiting a centre.
Anybody affected by cancer knows that a diagnosis forces a person to reconsider his or her priorities and perception of life. Whenever I have visited a centre, I have been reminded how precious life is and how incredibly strong the human spirit can be.
People that use the centres often comment that they gain a sense of direction upon visiting the centre and leave feeling empowered for the first time since their cancer was diagnosed, as a result of developing the skills to manage stress and anxiety and build a life beyond cancer.
Locally, the Fife community has done a great deal to make the dream of building a Maggie's a reality. More widely, Scotland now boasts five of these special centres and the rest of the UK will soon benefit from Maggie's exciting development plans. I know how grateful Maggie's is for your tremendous support - so thank you! Your continued efforts will enable thousands of people to build a life beyond cancer.
Just 2 a month can help people build new lives after cancer
THE Scotsman has joined forces with Maggie's to find 5,000 new friends for the cancer care centres. An average visit to a Maggie's Centre is estimated to cost 24 and that is what we are asking people to give - for only 2 a month, you can make a genuine difference to the lives of those suffering from cancer.
As the number of Maggie's Centres grows, so does the challenge of being able to help even more cancer victims rebuild their lives. Today, we publish the names of those who have already pledged to become Friends of Maggie's since we launched our campaign.