THE Northern Echo today launches a £1m appeal to transform cancer care for patients across County Durham to mark the paper’s 150th anniversary.

The aim is to establish a centre of excellence in 2020 to ensure those suffering with cancer get the privacy and dignity they need.

The Great Daily of the North has joined forces with the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust’s official charity to expand and improve the chemotherapy day unit at the University Hospital of North Durham, where cancer patients from throughout the county can choose to have their initial treatment.

The Northern Echo:

The unit is in need of an overhaul as an increasing number of patients means a lack of space is making it difficult for dedicated staff to treat those who are going through the most traumatic time of their lives.

Pat Chambers, charity manager for the trust, said: “The huge financial pressure on the NHS means we need the public’s help to provide state-of-the-art facilities for those being treated for cancer, and we are delighted that The Northern Echo is adopting the appeal for its 150th anniversary as a great campaigning newspaper.

“This appeal will benefit families in every corner of County Durham because patients come to the unit in the first stages of their treatment before continuing their care at hospitals closest to their homes.”

Beth Gibson, who leads an 18-strong team of nurses at the chemotherapy unit, added: “We do the best we can but we know we could be giving our patients a better experience if we were able to make some improvements to the environment and the unit. Having The Northern Echo as a partner in this appeal will make a huge difference to so many lives.”

Beth explained that the health trust is having to cope with an ever-increasing number of cancer patients due to lifestyle and environmental factors, as well as better diagnosis, but the chemotherapy unit is becoming outdated and too small.

The appeal is being backed by patients at the chemotherapy unit, including Rebecca Avery, 35, of Sherburn Hill, Durham. Rebecca started her treatment at the unit for stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on the day she had been due to begin IVF in the hope of starting a family.

“The staff here are like an extended a family, but the conditions need to be radically improved because they are just too cramped,” she said.

“No one really understands the impact that having chemotherapy has and you need privacy and dignity. “Cancer is in everybody’s lives so one day it will be someone you know who needs the support of a place like this. That’s why it’s so important that we all get behind the appeal.”

Planned improvements include new consultation rooms to provide greater privacy, 14 treatment rooms, and an open plan waiting room leading out to a garden.

The Northern Echo has succeeded in numerous campaigns since it was launched in 1870, and will mark its 150th anniversary on January 1 2020.

Editor Hannah Chapman said: “Cancer touches so many lives and it is clear that despite the amazing staff, the unit at Durham could deliver a much better service for people at such a traumatic times in their lives. We are determined to help them achieve their fundraising goal as The Northern Echo prepares to mark our milestone anniversary.”


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Call: 01325 743781

Email Pat Chambers at: or search Facebook and Twitter: @cddftcharity

Rebecca's story

ON the day she should have been starting IVF treatment in the hope of having a family, Rebecca Avery was reporting to the chemotherapy day unit in Durham after being diagnosed with cancer of the blood.

The Northern Echo:

Rebecca, 35, of Sherburn Hill, in Durham, developed stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and her world fell apart. Two years after the diagnosis, she has, hopefully, made a full recovery.

“I owe them my life,” she says, glancing round the room at the nurses who have been by her side during her fight against the disease.

And, having spent so much time in the unit during her intensive treatment, she too has come to see the nurses as “family”.

Rebecca was working as a travel agent but knew something was wrong. She had lost around eight stones and fainted at a works’ ball. Initially, her GP thought she had an ear infection and then anaemia. In the end, she was sent for tests and a doctor told her it was cancer.

“I was broken – totally devastated,” she recalls.

There have been many dark days since. As well as cancer, she also developed sepsis and the chemotherapy left her infertile. But, thanks to the expert care she has received, she is optimistic about the future. The hair she lost has grown back now, and she just needs blood tests every six months.

“I might develop a secondary cancer but I’m fine at the moment and I can’t thank them enough,” says Rebecca, whose husband, Danny, showed his gratitude with a fundraising skydive.

Rebecca is now backing the appeal to improve facilities at the chemotherapy unit. “Building the extension and creating more space will mean so much because it needs to be improved,” she says. “No one really understands the impact that having chemotherapy has and you need privacy and dignity.”

In February, she lost her beloved grandad Arthur Cairns to cancer. Arthur, who was 87, had been treated at Bishop Auckland General Hospital and was a lifelong reader of The Northern Echo.

“Cancer is in everybody’s lives so one day, it will be someone you know who needs the support of a place like this. That’s why it’s so important that we all get behind the appeal.”

Mike's story

IT is now nearly three years since Mike Foreman held his own wake “to make sure he didn’t miss the party”.

The Northern Echo:

Mike, now 77, and from Holmside, County Durham, raised almost £2,000 for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation when everyone from friends, relatives and his car mechanic attended the “send-off” at the North-East Theatre Organisation in Howden-le-Wear, where Mike plays the Wurlitzer organ.

Members of the medical team, who have cared for him at the chemotherapy day unit at the University Hospital of North Durham, were also there.

Mike Foreman, chairman of Durham City Probus Club, is now being treated for his seventh cancer since first being diagnosed in 2007 but his outlook remains positive despite staging the wake.

“I’m not going anywhere!” says Mike when asked about his prognosis.

It began with bowel cancer, then spread to his lung, stomach and now liver and Mike is passionate in his praise for the team of nurses who have looked after him in the chemotherapy unit.

“I don’t think of them as NHS staff – I view them as family,” he says. “They’ve kept me alive with their care and they work their socks off every day.”

And yet Mike shares the concerns about the inadequate facilities in which patients are treated.

“The capacity is very limited, and they need more space because there’s a lack of privacy,” he says. “I’m a sociable person but you come across situations where it might be a patient’s first visit and they need space to come to terms with what’s happening.”

He it as “dramatically important” that the £1m appeal is a success. “Cancer is increasing all the time so, by definition, they need more space. It’s a question of dignity.”

Ashley's story

FORMER company managing director Ashley Collister underwent surgery after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in June 2015.

The Northern Echo:

Sadly, the disease had spread to his liver and, despite a course of special radiotherapy infusion, progressed to the stomach lining and lymph nodes.

Asked about the prognosis, the 74-year-old grandad-of-four shrugs his shoulders and says: “I’m back on chemotherapy now but I just go with the flow.”

Ashley, who lives in Gilesgate, Durham, was in the RAF for 24 years before going into business and running an electronics company.

Despite his own illness, he worries about others in the unit. “I feel very sad for people who come here because you see them shaking and need of privacy but there’s no space,” he says. “It’s so important to get that space and to be able to ask questions without having to be taken around the corner.”

Ashley is now backing the campaign to establish a centre of excellence for cancer care for the people of County Durham.

“The NHS is under huge financial pressure, but it could be you who is affected by cancer next time,” he says. “By supporting the appeal, you are investing in the future – and, quite possibly, your own health.”