MAGGIE’S CANCER CARING CENTRE PROVIDES EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PRACTICAL SUPPORT FOR PEOPLE BATTLING CANCER. Madeleine Ross FINDS OUT WHY SO MANY OF HONG KONG’S MOVERS AND SHAKERS ARE THROWING THEIR WEIGHT BEHIND THIS NOBLE CAUSE
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
“ABOVE ALL, WHAT MATTERS IS NOT TO LOSE THE JOY OF LIVING IN THE FEAR OF DYING”
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 maggiescentre.org.hk
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