Much-loved campaigner who supported cancer patients through charity work in Preston has died

A woman who 'dedicated her life to improving the health and the lives of the people of Preston' for almost six decades through charity work has died aged 83.

By James Holt
Friday, 20th August 2021, 4:15 pm

Margaret O’Donoghue, who established a charity to support people with cancer in the borough after losing her mum to the illness has passed away aged 83.

She was the founder of Preston charity CancerHelp, which supports people with their diagnosis and their families and loved ones, but was instrumental in campaigning to improve the lives of people across the city for five decades.

The Cancer Help charity was established in 1989 after Margaret had recognised deficiencies in the health service’s treatment of cancer patients and wanted to give something back following her own mother's diagnosis.

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She had first trained as a state registered nurse before working as a health visitor and spent her life working in healthcare from 1959 - more than six decades ago and retired from her charity work in 2014.

And the inspirational woman helped establish the Samaritans phone service in Preston in 1970, the Preston’s Well Woman Centre in 1978 and in 1981 she became a founder member of St Catherine’s Hospice.

Years on, she remained 'available 24 hours a day' to patients using the charity services and spent many nights beside people's hospital beds as they lost their battles to cancer.

And she was made an Honorary Burgess of Preston in 2012 as part of the Guild for her services to the City and was an Honorary Fellow of UCLAN.

Margaret from when she received the Burgess Award during the Preston Guild Ceremony in 2012

Her death was announced on the CancerHelp social media channels on Wednesday, August 18 and was met with an outpour of love from many she had helped through their difficult cancer diagnosis.

And according to her son and journalist Matt O'Donoghue, she died at home, aged 83 with her family at her side.

He said: "Mum dedicated her life to improving the health and the lives of the people of Preston. We’d like to sincerely thank the incredible team of District Nurses. These nurses are utterly flat out and coping with a system in crisis.

"They provide a compassionate and caring service that supports families like ours, against all the odds. Despite being understaffed and overworked, their considerate care helped make mum’s final days were peaceful.

Margaret had set up CancerHelp Preston after seeing her own mum struggle with the illness

"She died as she wanted - and as she tirelessly campaigned for others to be able to do - at home, and with her family at her bedside. She was aged 83."

A spokesperson for CancerHelp said: "Margaret led a remarkable life; a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and the creator of a charity that has benefitted tens of thousands of people in Central Lancashire.

"Margaret spent her whole working life from 1959 in healthcare, supporting others. After training as a State Registered Nurse, she worked as a Health Visitor and became a familiar and supportive presence for many local families, often working with more than one generation.

"As her career developed, Margaret began to focus on the wellbeing of patients outside the National Health Service."

It was in her years caring for her mother that Margaret realised there was little support available for cancer patients and their carers other than the end-of-life care provided by a hospice.

There were fewer treatments available, there were no clinical nurse specialists in Preston and patients often had to travel to Manchester's Christie Hospital for the care available.

Margaret set about raising money to deliver specialist and dedicated cancer support services in the late 1980s before CancerHelp was officially registered in 1989.

In 1993 the charity acquired Vine House in Ribbleton from where a growing range of services could be delivered.

In a further statement on the CancerHelp Facebook page, it read: "Margaret’s philosophy was to create centres that were professional but welcoming and calming; an essential break for people who spend so much time in clinical environments over many months.

"Establishing, and overseeing the growth of a successful charity for 25 years, is a massive undertaking. The success of CancerHelp is, to a large extent, a testament to Margaret’s wide-ranging skill set not least her ability to persuade and influence those whose help she needed.

"As well as founder, she was a cancer support nurse, a listener, a speaker, a fundraiser, an advocate, and a source of help for other charities. Margaret was available 24 hours a day and spent many nights sitting with dying patients or providing respite for families.

"CancerHelp is and will remain Margaret’s legacy. It is, as Margaret intended over 30 years ago, the main referral point for healthcare professionals seeking support for people affected by cancer in Central Lancashire.

"Margaret O’Donoghue will be missed by everyone associated with CancerHelp and the countless thousands of people she has helped through the charity."

Comments on a public post shared to the CancerHelp Facebook page included an outpour of support from those who were helped by Margaret and her charity during their difficult diagnosis.

One comment read: "She was very supportive towards me during my cancer diagnosis and always found time for me whenever I visited Vine House. Whilst it was a very difficult time in my life, I hold fond memories of the time I spent at Vine House and the huge impact it had on my recovery."

Another wrote: "Margaret was passionate about the provision of services and was a pioneer for people with cancer and life-limiting illness’s - I am glad to have known her and she will be missed."

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