TODAY the Evening News backs a new Buy a Brick Appeal to raise money to extend the vital Maggie’s Centre at the Western General. One woman’s story will tells you all you need to know about why to support it.
When Lisa Stephenson first walked into the Maggie’s Centre on a grey October day, she felt like she had come home.
The 47-year-old crackles with energy as she recalls that initial visit, where tired and beaten down by her shock cancer diagnosis, she walked in and all the emotions she had been keeping inside just flooded out.
It is hard to imagine the vivacious mother-of-two being beaten by anything.
When doctors told Lisa that an incurable cancer of the blood plasma had filled her body, she would be forgiven for curling up in a ball and slamming the door on the world outside.
But the former banker did the very opposite.
Instead she started the seeds of a major fundraising drive for the Maggie’s Centre, at the Western General Hospital, which offers emotional and practical support to people living with cancer.
Today the Evening News is joining forces with Lisa and Maggie’s to raise funds for a much-needed extension for the Edinburgh centre.
Maggie’s Centres are a little bit special, filling the gap between hospital care and patients’ emotional and practical needs.
The charity’s original centre in Edinburgh has recorded more than 420,000 visits since it was built in 1996.
But the sad fact is there are around 4,300 new cancer diagnoses in Lothian each year and the number of cases are rising.
With your help, we want to raise at least £750,000 to pay for the £1.2m extension, which would allow an additional 5,000 visitors a year.
Lisa, of Ravelston, said: “I’ve always said Maggie’s is my safe haven.
“Even now, five years down the line, no matter how many times I do it, I walk across the door and there’s a weight that comes off your shoulders.
“Sometimes you don’t realise you are carrying that weight.
“Cancer is a really lonely journey, no matter how much friends and family support you have. Maggie’s is that place where you feel safe.
“That first time was like coming home. It just felt right. All of a sudden I thought, you know what, it’s going to be okay.”
It has been a long road for Lisa since her diagnosis with myeloma in December 2011.
She had been feeling tired but dismissed it as a side effect of having a busy job as a marketing director and two young children.
Blood tests initially showed she had an iron deficiency, although her GP was concerned enough to do further tests.
Lisa said: “The next thing I knew I was in the Western being told I had cancer and that there was no cure.
“Being the kind of person that I am, I didn’t want to pull any punches. I needed to know.
“That prognosis was not going to be great but they were going to do the best they could.”
Unfortunately Lisa did not respond to drugs or a stem cell transplant but she joined a clinical trial in 2012 at the Royal Marsden London for a drug that seems to be keeping her stable. The average life expectancy for a myeloma patient is five years but Lisa is taking life day by day.
She still faces regular bouts of pneumonia and frequent hospital stays because the cocktail of drugs she takes has compromised her immune system.
Her diagnosis meant major lifestyle changes and forced her to give up the job she loved.
Despite battling chronic fatigue, Lisa has directed her indomitable spirit towards fundraising more than £700,000 for Maggie’s through charity balls, high teas, exercise challenges and more.
Maggie’s has given her a space to be quiet, to seek support, to have a laugh with people who really understand how devastating and lonely cancer can be.
It has offered a space for her daughter Ellie, 19, and son Joe, 13, to understand about cancer either with their mother or without her.
With help from an army of supporters, Lisa hit on the idea of allowing people to ‘buy a brick’ as a physical representation of the new Maggie’s centre.
She said: “The physical manifestation of a building – the building bricks – but also the emotional realisation that we all have bricks that make up the foundations of our own lives.
“For me, I felt it was an important thing for people to be able to dedicate that brick or recognise on that brick what Maggie’s meant for them.
“We all know that cancer is a bloody hard journey. People often say to me, ‘Oh you look great Lisa, you are looking fine.’ And yeah, I laugh and say ‘Yeah I’m not dead yet,’ and ‘Make-up’s great’ and things like that.’ It is hard, every day is hard.
“There are people who will walk in Maggie’s today who will be dead by next week. There will be people who walk into Maggie’s today whose cancer will be cured by next week.
“There are families who are supported, there are relatives who are left and bereaved who are supported and we need that bigger building to be able to provide those services.”
“It’s so important that Maggie’s has the resources to be able to make sure that people are able to face their cancer journey with dignity and likewise for their family, that dignity remains.”
With your help, we want to make sure that people in Lothian have the best chance at life, whatever their diagnosis.
Euan McGrory, Evening News deputy editor, said: “Maggie’s has been there for so many of us over the years, offering amazing support when we or our loved ones most needed it.
“Now Maggie’s needs us, the people of the city where this great movement was born, to show our support for them by digging as deep as we can. I have no doubt that the people of Edinburgh will respond in just as amazing a way.”
Andrew Anderson, centre head of Maggie’s Edinburgh, said: “I am absolutely delighted The Edinburgh Evening News has chosen to champion our extension appeal and what a fantastic way to celebrate 20 years of supporting people with cancer, as well as their family and friends.
“Maggie’s Edinburgh is a real community and Lisa beautifully exemplifies that sense of togetherness.
“Despite her own diagnosis Lisa has already done so much to help fundraise for Maggie’s Edinburgh and I know her story will inspire people to help us build our much needed extension and reach as many people as possible across the whole Lothians area.”