Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents - Pho­tog­ra­phy si­mon j nicol

Movers and shak­ers are lin­ing up to sup­port Mag­gie’s Cancer Car­ing Cen­tre

There is lit­tle more fright­en­ing and un­nerv­ing than a cancer di­ag­no­sis. The dis­ease, which in­vades ag­gres­sively and of­ten with­out warn­ing, is re­spon­si­ble for more than 30 per cent of deaths in Hong Kong each year, and its preva­lence is grow­ing. Lat­est fig­ures from the Hong Kong Cancer Registry show the num­ber of cases of breast cancer jumped more

than 13 per cent in a year, while the in­ci­dence of thy­roid, prostate and ovar­ian cancer also soared. A quar­ter of men and a fifth of women in Hong Kong will suf­fer from some form of the dis­ease in their life­time.

Aside from the phys­i­cal toll of cancer, the dis­ease places an im­mense men­tal bur­den on its vic­tims, their fam­i­lies and their car­ers. The com­plex­ity and abun­dance of lit­er­a­ture about the dis­ease is bam­boo­zling, and the health sys­tem does not have the re­sources to pro­vide


pa­tients with the emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port they need when deal­ing with cancer.

This was the ex­pe­ri­ence of Scot­tish woman Mag­gie Keswick Jencks, who spent her younger years liv­ing in China and Hong Kong while her fa­ther, John Keswick, was work­ing with Jar­dine Mathe­son. Both de­vel­oped a love and re­spect for the Chi­nese peo­ple and cul­ture, and set up the Keswick Foun­da­tion in 1979 to sup­port pi­lot projects that would ad­dress in­ad­e­qua­cies in Hong Kong’s med­i­cal sys­tem.

Mag­gie was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer in 1988, when she was 47 years old. She had surgery to re­move the tu­mours, but five years later the cancer was found to have spread. Mo­ments af­ter her doc­tor told her she had two or three months to live, Mag­gie was shunted out into the cor­ri­dor and left to face the shock of her prog­no­sis alone. In this trau­matic time, she re­alised she and oth­ers in her sit­u­a­tion had needs that busy hos­pi­tal per­son­nel could not meet. She wanted help mak­ing sense of the dis­ease and learn­ing how she might con­tinue to en­joy life while liv­ing with cancer.

From this re­al­i­sa­tion grew the blue­print for Mag­gie’s Cancer Car­ing Cen­tres. Her aim was to cre­ate a haven where those suf­fer­ing from cancer might ac­cess in­for­ma­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port and learn to man­age their stress in an up­lift­ing, com­fort­able and non-in­sti­tu­tional en­vi­ron­ment. “Above all, what mat­ters is not to lose the joy of liv­ing in the fear of dy­ing,” she said be­fore her own death in 1995. The sen­ti­ment is now the cen­tre’s mantra.

The first Mag­gie’s opened in Ed­in­burgh in 1996 and its suc­cess prompted the launch of 16 more cen­tres across the UK. In 2005, the Keswick Foun­da­tion be­gan dis­cus­sions to fi­nance the build­ing of a Hong Kong cen­tre and, af­ter years of plan­ning, it opened last year on the grounds of Tuen Mun Hos­pi­tal. The spec­tac­u­lar build­ing was de­signed on a pro bono ba­sis by ac­claimed ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry and sits in lush, peaceful Chi­nese gar­dens land­scaped by Mag­gie’s daugh­ter, Lily Jencks.

Walk­ing into the cen­tre is like en­ter­ing a warm, vi­brant home. Sleek pol­ished wood, beau­ti­ful decor and floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows over­look­ing serene ponds and green­ery make the space a tran­quil es­cape from the steril­ity and bus­tle of the hos­pi­tal next door. Any­one af­fected by cancer, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, is wel­come to use the li­brary, lounge room, din­ing area and open kitchen, and to par­tic­i­pate in the cen­tre’s many free work­shops and ther­apy ses­sions. These in­clude classes in yoga, mind­ful­ness and tai chi, as well as cre­ative writ­ing, art and mu­sic. Then there are nu­tri­tion work­shops in which pro­fes­sional di­eti­cians share veg­e­tar­ian recipes for healthy liv­ing. Sup­port groups help peo­ple cope with their prac­ti­cal and emo­tional con­cerns, while self-help cour­ses fo­cus on how to man­age stress, deal with the fear of re­cur­rence, man­age pain and de­velop pos­i­tive think­ing.

The lion’s share of do­na­tions to the cen­tre is used to em­ploy clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gists. “You come here and one of the first peo­ple you meet is a proper psy­chol­o­gist, who you may not oth­er­wise be able to af­ford,” says Lily Ahn Rid­dick, who sits on the board of Mag­gie’s. “The psy­chol­o­gist then di­rects you to all our pro­grammes and agrees to see you when­ever you want. We have this amaz­ing space—we just need money to fund pro­grammes in or­der to re­ally max­imise its po­ten­tial.”

While the Keswick Foun­da­tion funded the build­ing, the cen­tre is re­spon­si­ble for rais­ing the cash for its day-to-day oper­a­tions. It fo­cuses its ef­forts on pri­vate phi­lan­thropists rather than cor­po­ra­tions. “There is less cor­po­rate money out there than there once was,” says Rid­dick. “But one of the other big prob­lems is that cor­po­rates like fund­ing con­crete pro­grammes—things they can put their names on, like art pro­grammes or yoga work­shops. What they don’t like fund­ing are things that seem vague, like the em­ploy­ment of psy­chol­o­gists, be­cause they see these as staff costs, which are open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion and crit­i­cism. So we are re­ally try­ing to build fund­ing that we can use at our dis­posal.”

Rid­dick and socialite Anne Wang-liu, also a Mag­gie’s board mem­ber, have joined forces with lux­ury life­style group Quintessen­tially and its CEO, Emma Sher­rard Matthew, to raise money for the Mag­gie’s mis­sion via a concert of Christmas car­ols at St John’s Cathe­dral in Cen­tral on De­cem­ber 8. All money from ticket sales will go di­rectly to Mag­gie’s, as will pro­ceeds from silent auc­tions at the af­ter-party at chic Chi­nese eatery Mott 32.

Sup­port­ing the event is a com­mit­tee of local in­flu­encers and tastemak­ers, in­clud­ing Clare Keswick, Yolanda Choy-tang, Natasha Li, Olivia Buck­ing­ham, Christy Pow­ell, Divia Har­ilela, Annabelle Bond and Zita Ong, to name a few, who will be re­spon­si­ble for ticket sales, per­for­mances, auc­tion lots and more.

So warm up those vo­cal chords and pre­pare to sing up a storm for a won­der­ful cause this Christmas sea­son.

To make a do­na­tion to Mag­gie’s, go to mag­gi­es­cen­

find­ing sanc­tu­ary From left: Natasha Li, Christy Pow­ell, Emma Sher­rard Matthew, Lily Ahn Rid­dick, Olivia Buck­ing­ham and Anne Wang-liu are volunteering as com­mit­tee mem­bers for a Christmas concert to raise funds for Mag­gie’s Cancer Car­ing Cen­tre in Tuen Mun (inset)


The Mag­gie’s cen­tre in Tuen Mun, de­signed by Frank Gehry, boasts homely in­te­ri­ors and sits nes­tled in lush gar­dens land­scaped by Lily Jencks

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