One woman's remarkable vision is helping thousands of North-East cancer patients cope with their illness. Health and Education Editor Barry Nelson met staff and patients at Maggie's Newcastle.

A FEW minutes walk from the Northern Centre for Cancer Care is a quirky, ultra-modern building which has become a home from home for patients going through the tribulations of cancer treatment.

Called Maggie's Newcastle, it is the 17th Maggie's to open and is the only one between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

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Since it opened in the grounds of the Freeman Hospital last May it has welcomed more than 10,000 cancer patients, family members and friends - way over the 4,500 figure that was forecast.

The centre - which is keen to reach out to patients from across the entire North-East - offers information, psychological support, advice on nutrition, exercise and relaxation therapies and benefits advice.

At the centre of every Maggie's is the kitchen table, where visitors are invited to sit, eat and drink and relax.

The centres name comes from the late Maggie Keswick Jenks, a Scottish architect who, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988, spent the remaining seven years of her life ensuring that other cancer patients and their family and friends would find solace and support close to where they were being treated.

Based on similar schemes in the United States, Maggies have become invaluable to thousands of cancer patients up and down the UK.

Patients like Simone Rudolphi, 46, from Durham City, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last February, just when two of her three daughters were doing school exams.

"The NHS is great but it simply isnt equipped to help people deal with cancer, when you need that extra bit of support and advice," says Simone.

A translator and aspiring photographer, she was one of the first to use its facilities.

"The hospital is so busy and so different to Maggies. You can see people visibly relax when they have been here for a while - and I particularly love the whole kitchen table idea."

Apart from the companionship on offer, Simone was also able to take advice from Karen Verrill, one of two cancer nurses based at Maggies.

"Karen really helped me make a decision about having chemotherapy. In the end I had chemo and surgery and I now take Herceptin," says Simone.

"I had my treatment here at the Freeman so it has been great being able to come in here instead of sitting in a waiting room," says Simone.

"It is not just a support group, Maggies comes with a lot of education as well."

Poignantly, Simone got to know another women who had been diagnosed with advanced cancer and was invited to do the photographs at her wedding.

"She had terminal cancer but it was still a joyous experience," she says.

Simone has decided to try to raise funds towards the 500,000 a year the Newcastle centre needs to stay open by signing up for the Great North Run.

Kelly Knighting-Wyke, fundraising manager, is keen to spread the word.

"The Northern Centre for Cancer Treatment sees patients from as far away as North Yorkshire so we are really keen to get the message out that we are here."

While a majority using the centre are women, more men are coming in.

In an effort to be more men-friendly the centre has a selection of paintings by the famous Spennymoor pitman-painter Norman Cornish, including a celebrated image of flat-capped men drinking at a bar.

Maggies also has a Monday Morning for Men session where blokes are welcome to drop in for a bacon sandwich and - most importantly - a chat with other men affected by cancer.

Apart from specialist medical advice, Maggie's also offers a range of drop-in events from stress management and nutritional advice, to art, yoga and Tai Chi.

There are also a range of specialist support groups for patients with specific cancers such as lung cancer, prostate cancer, myeloma and brain tumour.

More than anything, the staff at Maggie's try to make the centre a relaxing haven for often stressed patients and relatives.

Karen relates how the parents of a young man who was having a leg amputated due to cancer chose to wait in Maggie's during their sons operation so they could be supported by staff and other patients.

Karen is also keen to flag up the next major fundraising event for Maggie's - an easy 4km family-friendly walk around the Northumberlandia landform sculpture near Cramlington, Northumberland, on Saturday April 26.

Very few will know that the landscape architect who designed Northumberlandia is none other than Charles Jencks, who co-founded Maggie's alongside his wife, Maggie Keswick Jenks.

*For more information about the Northumberlandia Walk and Maggies Newcastle visit or ring 0191-233-6600