‘We found the door, and that was the beginning of my recovery’

WHEN Joan Allen met and fell in love with an old school friend she had not seen for almost 50 years, it felt like one of the happiest times in her life.

But just two weeks before she was due to marry Peter, she was given the devastating news that she had cancer, and the couple’s world fell apart.

Now, after receiving treatment for the disease and getting vital support from Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Edinburgh, Mrs Allen said she was moving on with her life.

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The Scotsman and our sister paper, Scotland on Sunday, have joined up with Maggie’s for our annual Christmas campaign, to make sure other cancer patients and their families can receive the same help to live life during and after cancer strikes.

Mrs Allen’s reunion with Peter came after she decided to track down old friends from school in the hope of meeting up with them again.

“Over the months our friendship grew and deepened and the inevitable happened,” Mrs Allen said.

Mr Allen proposed and the couple set the date for their wedding last year.

“Then my world fell apart. Just two weeks before the wedding date I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer,” she said.

“I felt like I was about to lose the most precious thing of all, because at this time in your life there’s an appreciation of things in a way you don’t have when you’re younger.”

She added: “The first signs of the cancer came at a time which should have been the happiest in my life because Peter and I had just met again after almost 50 years.”

Mrs Allen, from Edinburgh, said she received great support from her friends and family.

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The couple decided that they would go ahead with the wedding, which took place on a sunny day in April 2010.

“Two weeks later I had a radical hysterectomy, and after that was the long, long road to recovery.”

Mrs Allen said that moving on from her treatment and reclaiming her life was the hardest part of her recovery.

After having her surgery at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, Mrs Allen had her first check-up at the Western General in the city, which in turn led her to the Maggie’s centre in the capital.

“To have a cancer diagnosis at the beginning is like a death sentence, until you start to work through all of it,” she said.

“So as we left the hospital that afternoon, Peter said, ‘Why don’t we pop down and have a look at the Maggie’s centre?’

“I said, ‘It’s too late, they’ll be shut, I’m tired, I want to go home’.

“But we went down and he gently led me towards this place and I was still protesting. We found the door and he very gently pushed me inside, and that was the beginning of my recovery.”

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Mrs Allen said that as soon as she walked in she felt a sense of warmth from the place. She said: “The people, the place – it was like a big cosy blanket being wrapped around you. You’re safe.

“It’s the most amazing sensation and it was nothing like I expected. I thought it would be like an institution and nothing like what it is. Everyone should see what a Maggie’s looks like. There is nothing else like it.”

Mrs Allen joined a group helping patients move on with their lives with practical and psychological guidance.

“People talked openly, plainly, frankly, and it was an incredible support,” she said.

The couple have just returned from a belated honeymoon, cruising on the Queen Mary II down to the Canary Islands.

“It was a long time to wait, nearly two years, but it was worth waiting for,” Mrs Allen said.


Maggie’s Cancer Centres are celebrating their 15th birthday. The first centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996 and there are now 15 beautifully designed centres either established or in development across the UK. From the Highlands to London, Maggie’s help thousands of people find clarity and calmness in the isolation of their cancer journey through a bespoke and specialised programme. Help celebrate their 15th year and support the care that helps thousands of Scots:

• TEXT: Donate a one-off gift of £1.50 by texting MAGG15 to 70070

• PHONE: 0300 123 1801 and quote Scotsman Christmas Appeal