“Medicine is keeping people with cancer alive longer and the support needs to match up – FACT”
A £2m campaign has been launched to build a bespoke cancer support, awareness and education facility for the North-East on the derelict Dunston Hill School plot in Gateshead.
As CEO and founder of the charity FACT (Fighting All Cancers Together), Joanne Smith wants it to be a community building available to all – something that was not there for her and her family when she was given a devastating diagnosis 10 years ago, on her daughter Molly’s second birthday.
“I’d had my tonsils out a couple of weeks before so was off work recovering, and that’s when I felt a lump in my breast. I contacted the doctors straight away – more because I didn’t want to take more time off work, rather than because I was overly concerned.”
Two days later she was in hospital having a physical examination, mammogram and biopsy. As soon as she saw how many people were in the room waiting to give her the results and the ‘professional’ look on their faces she knew it was not good news. “There was no build up, it was “We’ve found breast cancer cells”, I was relieved that’s how I was told as there was no confusion,” she said.
Determined that life must go on, that afternoon Joanne and her husband, David, threw their little girl the party they’d planned after telling stunned family and friends. “I wanted it to be all about Molly and carry on as normal but at the back of my mind I was thinking “will I be here next year?”
Joanne from Whickham started her cancer treatment while finishing a masters degree in business at Durham University and ended up having a double mastectomy.
Her hair fell out on a family holiday she was adamant would still go ahead, soon after she started taking the brutal cocktail of chemotherapy drugs and her 7-year-old son Daniel, was asked to cut it all off – much to his delight.
She had reconstructive surgery more than four years after she was first diagnosed and still goes back for yearly check-ups.
“As I came out the other end I couldn’t fault the medical care at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, it was second to none. But when you stepped outside there was very little support, not just for me but for the people around me, too.
“The day my son asked me if I was going to die was the lowest point. You want to promise your kids that you will be there forever but I had to tell him the truth. He was seven but felt like he was the only kid in the world whose mum had cancer.”
“It puzzles me that it’s still so taboo when one in two people will be affected by cancer at some time in their lives. At FACT, we want to get people talking about it to take the fear out of using the word ‘cancer’, because not talking about it makes it more scary” she explained.
“I set up FACT in 2008 to help people find the support they were looking for right here in the region. All of FACT’s services are developed based on people’s real experiences of having cancer, and all our help is tailored towards the needs of individuals and families.
“Everyone has a different financial situation, caring responsibilities and they will all react differently to their treatments. Medicine is advancing and it’s keeping people alive longer with cancer than ever before and the support needs to match-up.”
Currently FACT hosts a diverse range of services from coffee mornings, men’s groups, complimentary therapies, wig service, mastectomy wear, young women’s lunch club, counselling, bereavement support, yoga. pilates and bootcamps.
The architect’s drawings are complete and the charity is about to progress to the full planning stage to create the new purpose-built centre on the school site in Dunston. It will expand the charity’s support services and education and awareness programmes as well as increasing its work with schools, colleges and statutory service providers and provide volunteering, training and job opportunities.
Joanne added: “FACT wants this to be a community building – available to all. We have spoken to other long established support centres in other regions who say that many people turn up to their centres up to six times before they find the courage to go in – because they do not know what is behind the centre’s closed door.
“FACT knows that by working with the community we will build relationships that will make it easier for people to ask for support if a time comes that they need it – this is especially the case with children and young people.
“FACT’s centre has the potential to benefit everyone the North East, and provide an innovative model with the potential to be replicated throughout the UK.”
Suite 4, Enterprise House, Kingsway North, Team Valley, Gateshead, NE11 0SR
Website: www.fact-cancersupport.co.uk Tel: 0191-4420833