Edinburgh mum told she had terminal cancer defies medical experts
In cards for their 16th, 18th and 21st birthdays, the devoted mum made sure that her girls Emma and Eve, then 14 and nine, would always know how much they meant to her.
Fiona was only 45 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.
After undergoing surgery to remove the cancer, she was about to start chemotherapy when doctors discovered the disease had spread around her body.
In 2004 she was given just 18 months to live.
Yet, thanks to an extraordinary response to her treatment, the mother-of-two is approaching the 13th anniversary of that terrible day with hope for a bright future.
Fiona, of North Berwick, said: “For me the biggest worry was not getting to be there to see Emma and Eve grow up.
“The great thing is both girls are now in their 20s. I wrote them cards for their 16th birthdays, thinking I wouldn’t even see that part of their lives.
“It’s just fantastic.”
In the dark days of her diagnosis, Fiona found incredible support for herself and her daughters at Maggie’s.
The pioneering cancer centre at the Western General Hospital was established in memory of landscape architect Maggie Keswick Jencks, who wanted to transform cancer care after she was left to process a terminal cancer diagnosis in a hospital corridor.
She died before the centre opened in 1996 but her legacy has offered unparalleled support to thousands of cancer patients and their families.
The Evening News is backing the Maggie’s Buy a Brick appeal, which aims to build a £1.2 million extension so the charity can see an additional 5000 patients per year.
Maggie’s offered Fiona a space where she could breathe, and a place to seek vital advice on how to explain what was happening to her daughters.
The former nurse said: “Maggie’s was quite different from the hospital environment.
“It’s not just the warmth of the building but the welcome you receive as well when you walk in.
“Maggie herself had such vision for a new approach to cancer care. You always need the hospital but I have been so lucky that Maggie’s has also been there to help.
“The support they gave the girls as well as the support they gave me to talk to the girls about cancer and dying, and grief and loss, was amazing.
“Maggie’s staff were really able to help me with that. I think that was one of the hardest things.”
Fiona was set on a gruelling chemotherapy regime, undergoing 19 bouts of treatment before she started to take the drug Herceptin to tackle the disease.
Luckily for Fiona, she has responded incredibly well to her treatment and continues to visit the hospital regularly for check-ups.
She said: “It was just such a shock, especially because of the girls.
“For the next few years we just didn’t know what would happen. You live your life in three-month gulps as every three months you get a scan.
“You are living on the edge, waiting to see if the cancer will come back.”
Staff at Maggie’s have helped Fiona to deal with the uncertainty of her diagnosis and offered guidance on everything from wigs and eyebrow care, to financial concerns.
They also helped Fiona to overcome insomnia caused by steroids in the heavy-duty chemotherapy by using visualisation and mindfulness.
She said: “Throughout all of this, Maggie’s was there. I’ve got to know a lot of people through having treatment there for 13 years.
“Many of my friends there say Maggie’s is a place to go for calm, an oasis away from your hospital treatment.
“It is somewhere to talk about your fears and concerns. The staff really understand what is going on.
“They have all this knowledge about the diagnosis and treatment so if you do not understand anything, you can go and learn about it.”
She was also inspired by Maggie herself, who urged other patients not to lose the love of living in their fear of dying.
The 58-year-old, who works in the NHS, said: “That idea has always been important to the girls and me.
“We have always tried to make the most of life and keep a hope and optimism for life and for each other.
“It is not curable, this cancer, so I know I can’t take anything for granted.
“I know I have to make the most of everything.”
The family have become major supporters of Maggie’s and Fiona’s oldest daughter Emma, 27, has raised more than £54,000 for the charity by holding two glittering charity balls in her mum’s honour.
Fiona called for people to get behind the Evening News’ Buy a Brick appeal, which has already hit the half-way mark thanks to a £160,000 donation from the sale of plastic bags at Morrisons supermarkets.
This gift means there is now more than £700,000 in the pot, including £440,000 from corporate donations and nearly £40,000 raised from readers.
It comes after a mystery benefactor pledged to donate £100,000 to the appeal if the charity could match the funding with gifts from people who had already supported Maggie’s.
The funds will all go towards a new extension at Maggie’s Edinburgh, which will include three new rooms, remodelling of the garden and more space in the kitchen.
Award-winning Capital architect Richard Murphy has drawn up the blueprints, describing his vision as “an anti-hospital” that is designed as if through the eyes of the patients who will use it.
Fiona urged people living with cancer to seek help at Maggie’s, even if they do not think they need it.
She said: “I would tell people to simply go and try it. It is just a lovely place to spend time.
“Even if you have support from family and friends, Maggie’s can still always help.”