Margaret O’Donoghue who changed the face of life for cancer patients in Lancashire has retired after decades of caring for others. AASMA DAY talks to the founder of Cancer Help to hear her story.
Nursing her mother Martha Oldcorn through cancer, Margaret O’Donoghue was struck by the insensitive manner in which cancer patients were treated and the lack of support for them and their families.
Margaret, who lives in Cottam, near Preston, recalls: “Looking back now, it is awful to think what cancer patients experienced then.
“My mum died of cancer in 1981. We presume it was cancer as it was never actually diagnosed.
“In those days, they only actually gave you chemotherapy as an outpatient on a trolley.
“If you had cancer at that time, you were written off.
“After my mum went for two appointments, they told us not to bother bringing her back as there was no point.”
Margaret, who was one of seven children and was working as a health visitor, took six months’ unpaid leave to look after her mother before her death.
Only six month after her mother died, Margaret’s dad Fred died of a broken heart.
Margaret began thinking about the hospice movement and was one of the founder members of St Catherine’s Hospice.
Margaret says: “I realised doctors did not have the time to provide the extra care and support that cancer patients needed and a lot of the services were disjointed.
“I got in touch with the first district nurse who had started the first palliative care service in her own home in Bath and was awarded an MBE.”
As well as being on the board of trustees at St Catherine’s Hospice for 10 years, Margaret went on to become the chairman of the hospice group and did an oncology nursing course.
She founded Cancer Help Preston in 1989 and the service which now consists of Vine House in Ribbleton and Croston House in Garstang, helps thousands of cancer patients each year.
Before founding Cancer Help, Margaret also established the Samaritans phone service in Preston and Preston’s Well Woman Centre and has been working tireless to provide services in Preston for more than 40 years.
Cancer Help aims to support cancer patients, their families and carers through the impact of cancer diagnosis, the effects of the disease and the side effects of its treatment.
The charity offers a wide range of free services from advice and counselling to nurse led treatments and complementary therapies
Margaret says: “Cancer has changed completely over the years. Survival rates are a lot better and treatments are not as radical as they used to be and are more precise and less traumatic.
“People talk about cancer now whereas in those days, it used to be ‘The Big C’ that people were too scared to mention.
“There is a great need for the services we offer because there are more cancer survivors who need support and therapy.
“When their cancer treatment finishes, patients feel they are suddenly lost and bereft.
“Somewhere like Cancer Help is a good place for them to go.”
Margaret, who does not want to reveal her age but admits she is not as old as the Queen, says she decided to retire as she felt it was time for a change.
She says: “Even though we have done very well for the last 25 years, I think it is time for other people to come in with new ideas.
“I see a new road waiting for Vine House Cancer Help and a new vision.” Margaret, who has a daughter Joanne who is a parish clerk and a son Matthew who works for Granada as a reporter and presenter, is thinking about what to do in her retirement but is planning to carry on volunteering at the Vine House Cancer Help Shop in Garstang.
The grandmother-of-two, who is married to Tony, says: “I have been very fortunate and privileged to be at Cancer Help for so many years and I would like to say all the volunteers deserve commendations.
“We have 200 volunteers covering four shops and the house and they are all wonderful.”
Jonathan Gorick, chairman of the trustees at Cancer Help, says: “It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since Margaret formed Cancer Help.
“Under her guidance the charity has grown from humble beginnings in a borrowed church hall into an organisation that provides over 6,000 patient contacts each year, operates two day centres, employs 20 members of staff and is supported by more than 200 volunteers.
“Margaret’s true legacy will always be the support and comfort that she and the charity has provided to countless thousands of people affected by cancer in this region.
“The challenge for us now is to build on that legacy.
“In some respects Margaret’s retirement is a sad time but it is also a time to say thank you and to celebrate all that she has achieved.”