Cen­ter of hope

When the Big C strikes, it is of­ten what hap­pens af­ter­wards that is cru­cial to the pa­tient and the pa­tient’s fam­ily. In Hong Kong, an in­spi­ra­tional con­cept has launched a place where the sick can learn to heal them­selves. Rebecca Lo drops by to find out m

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

In Hong Kong, an in­spi­ra­tional con­cept has launched a place where the sick can learn to heal them­selves.

Mag­gie Keswick Jencks first bat­tled breast can­cer with a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy. When it re­turned for the third time, it had spread to her liver, bones and bone mar­row. Al­though she had their sup­port, she knew that her hus­band Charles Jencks and two teenage chil­dren needed her. She vowed to bat­tle the dis­ease with ev­ery means pos­si­ble to gain more time with her fam­ily.

Grow­ing up be­tween China and Scot­land as the only child of John Keswick and a fam­ily of Jar­dine Mathe­son ty­coons, she was fa­mil­iar with the ben­e­fits of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine.

She felt that while hos­pi­tals treated the dis­ease, there was a gap be­tween what they could pro­vide and the kind of emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port that gave a pa­tient hope.

Jencks wrote A View from the Front Line at the re­quest of her sur­geon Mike Dixon for med­i­cal jour­nal The Breast. It is a can­cer pa­tient’s first­hand ac­count. It also sowed the seed that even­tu­ally blos­somed into Mag­gie’s Can­cer Car­ing Cen­tre.

“Most hos­pi­tal en­vi­ron­ments say to the pa­tient, in ef­fect: ‘How you feel is unim­por­tant’,” wrote Jencks. “‘You are not of value. Fit in with us, not us with you’. With very lit­tle ef­fort and money, this could be changed to some­thing like: ‘Wel­come! And don’t worry. We are here to re­as­sure you, and your treat­ment will be good and help­ful to you’. Why shouldn’t the pa­tient look for­ward to a day at the hos­pi­tal?”

Jencks worked with Ed­in­burgh ar­chi­tect Richard Mur­phy to con­vert a small build­ing within Ed­in­burgh’s Western Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal’s grounds into a drop-in cen­ter.

It was in­tended to be an up­lift­ing place housed in trans­for­ma­tive ar­chi­tec­ture. Pa­tients and their fam­ily or care­givers could source in­for­ma­tion about the dis­ease and al­ter­na­tive treat­ments, par­tic­i­pate in group pro­grams and coun­sel­ing ses­sions, share ex­pe­ri­ences with like-minded peo­ple or have a quiet place to re­flect.

It was a plan to help pa­tients help them­selves. The sick can take own­er­ship for how they wish to con­tinue liv­ing with the dis­ease.

Jencks died in 1995, a year be­fore the first Mag­gie’s Can­cer Car­ing Cen­tre was open to the pub­lic.

Nearly two decades later, Jencks’ friend and ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry un­veiled his sec­ond Mag­gie’s in Hong Kong.

The sin­gle story, pur­pose- built struc­ture is sit­u­ated near the grounds of Tuen Mun Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal, al­low­ing pa­tients to drop by as they wait for their treat­ment ses­sion or doc­tor’s ap­point­ment.

Hong Kong has a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of more than 7 mil­lion. Tuen Mun Hos­pi­tal’s catch­ment area is about 15 per­cent of that, or roughly 1.1 mil­lion peo­ple. Newly di­ag­nosed can­cer cases in the city were about 26,000 in 2011, with ap­prox­i­mately 10 per­cent of that is in the Tuen Mun and New Ter­ri­to­ries West area.

Gehry worked with lo­cal ar­chi­tect Ron­ald Lu & Part­ners on the pro­ject pro bono. Jencks’ daugh­ter Lily de­signed the land­scape around the build­ing.

Like the other cen­ters, the ar­chi­tec­ture is in­spi­ra­tional. It fea­tures a large kitchen as the heart and soul of the sun­light-drenched spa­ces. For those need­ing time on their own, there are many ter­races that over­look re­flect­ing ponds and the gar­dens where they can con­tem­plate in pri­vacy.

Funded and op­er­ated by The Keswick Foun­da­tion, Mag­gie’s Hong Kong of­fers in­di­vid­ual sup­port through pro­fes­sion­als, such as can­cer in­for­ma­tion spe­cial­ists, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gists and so­cial work­ers.

There are re­lax­ation ses­sions to teach pa­tients how to man­age stress. There are sup­port groups for peo­ple to share their ex­pe­ri­ences — or just to vent frus­tra­tions.

Pop­u­lar classes in­clude Chi­nese and Western nu­tri­tion, tai chi and yoga. In ad­di­tion, there are creative writ­ing cour­ses, art ther­apy and con­certs. All of its pro­grams are free to the pub­lic, with some of the more pop­u­lar cour­ses re­quir­ing regis­tra­tion.

“We opened a tem­po­rary cen­ter in 2008 and moved here in April,” says Helen Lui, Mag­gie’s cen­ter head.

“While we are a drop-in cen­ter open to co­in­cide with most users’ doc­tors ap­point­ments dur­ing the day, we are avail­able on an as-needed ba­sis. For ex­am­ple, we have a Satur­day yoga class for work­ing women. And we have a young women’s group on Fri­day evenings. They face dif­fer­ent is­sues than their se­nior coun­ter­parts and most work dur­ing the day.”

More than 80 per­cent of Mag­gie’s ap­prox­i­mately 12,000 users are fe­male, and there are classes de­signed specif­i­cally for them.

“Our ‘look good, feel bet­ter’ class help ladies deal with the loss of their hair or dam­age to their com­plex­ion. Makeup artists show them how to ap­ply prod­ucts for a nat­u­ral look. Many lo­cal women don’t know what they can achieve with cos­met­ics — with just a lit­tle ef­fort, they can be beau­ti­ful again. Pa­tients are much hap­pier when they’ve re­gained their con­fi­dence.”

Lui ex­plains that the yoga and tai chi classes are con­ducted by spe­cial­ists who work with can­cer pa­tients.

“Un­like yoga stu­dios where it’s about how well you can do a head­stand, there is no pres­sure to go be­yond your com­fort zone. That can lead to frus­tra­tion in­stead of ben­e­fit­ting. Par­tic­i­pants are taught to un­der­stand their phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions and how they may in­jure them­selves if they push too hard.”

While nu­tri­tion classes pro­mote healthy eat­ing, they also are chances for pa­tients to so­cial­ize.

“We are all in good moods if we have good ap­petites,” says Lui. “Our reg­u­lar users get a chance to show off their skills. One taught us how to make bread, for ex­am­ple. The cook­ing and nu­tri­tion classes are fun. Though pa­tients need to be mind­ful of eat­ing healthy, we teach them that it’s ok to have a spoon­ful of sugar or some but­ter ev­ery now and then. And it is nat­u­ral for our com­mu­nity to sit at the round din­ing ta­ble and in­ter­act with new pa­tients over a cup of tea.”

Lui points out that the Hong Kong cen­ter of­fers a slightly dif­fer­ent pro­gram than its coun­ter­parts in the United King­dom.

“They don’t of­fer tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, while creative writ­ing is not as pop­u­lar here,” she ex­plains.

She be­lieves that Mag­gie’s pro­vides some­thing to the lo­cal com­mu­nity that the so­cial ser­vices run by the Hong Kong govern­ment lacks.

“We use our cen­ter to help fa­cil­i­tate so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties,” she says. “Be­fore I started work­ing at Mag­gie’s, I never re­al­ized how ar­chi­tec­ture could be such a huge con­tribut­ing fac­tor. Users love com­ing here. They learn that it’s not just about their own ill­ness — they are all in the same boat at Mag­gie’s. They are among friends.” Con­tact the writer through sun­dayed@chi­nadaily.com.cn.


Fur­nished with ponds and gar­dens, Mag­gie’s cen­ter of­fers a pri­vate and delightful space for can­cer pa­tients to re­lax.


A spa­cious kitchen is de­signed as the heart and soul of the sunny spa­ces in Mag­gie’s cen­ter.

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