'Cancer diagnosis scared me - but Doncaster support group helped me through'

Doncaster Cancer Support trustees Dawn Dowling, left, and John Allen, middle, pictured with Michelle Wilkinson, right, who has used the service and is now helping raise money for its work 'Picture:  David Kessen
Doncaster Cancer Support trustees Dawn Dowling, left, and John Allen, middle, pictured with Michelle Wilkinson, right, who has used the service and is now helping raise money for its work 'Picture: David Kessen
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Two years ago, Doncaster mum Michelle Wilkinson's life was turned up side down.

Back in July 2016, the 46-year-old from Rossington was diagnosed with cancer. She admits she was scared when she heard the doctor tell her the news.

Initially she struggled to cope - but now she says she has gained strength in her battle with the illness after meeting up with Doncaster Cancer Support, the organisation set up by another Doncaster mum who was hit by the illness.

Read more: Founder of Doncaster cancer service honoured
Marie Caygill, a Rossington grandmother, set up the non-profit organisation before her death in 2016, aged just 47

Since Marie died, her mum and dad Ann and John Allen, and sister Dawn Dowling, have continued to run the organisation in her memory.

From September, the organisation is increasing its drop-in centres from two a month to three a month, and there are ambitions to hold them in more locations across Doncaster.

Michelle, for one, is pleased that Marie's family has continued her work.

Read more: Marie’s legacy of service to cancer families to expand in Doncaster
She has breast cancer, and is living with the disease.

She said: "I got diagnosed in July 2016. I was scared. I heard about Doncaster Cancer Support, but I didn't go at first, precisely because I was scared, I finally went after seven months - and I wish I'd gone earlier.

"I felt I didn't want to go and see poorly people. But when I got there, I realised that seeing other poorly people helped. Sometimes its nice to be able to vent your feelings to someone who is in the same boat. There are things you can say to each other that you don't feel you can say to you family - like saying you're worried about dying, or talking about particular pains and aches.

"You can say that at the drop-in and people will say they have had the same, that it is not unusual.

"Before I went, I had hit rock bottom. But now I've never felt more alive. It's helped me get a better understanding of cancer, and now I feel that I'm in control, not the cancer.

"My cancer is level four. It's classed as palliative. They can control it with tablets and injections, but it is about taking each day. I have it but this is my life, not cancer's, and I choose how I live me life.

"When I leave the drop-ins, I feel a weight has been taken off my shoulders."

As well as help from the drop-in sessions, Michelle has had other help from the Doncaster Cancer Support.

The centre uses donations that it receives from to pay for other help for cancer patients.

Michelle is an example, and she has been sent on a holiday, provided with a cooker, and had a pamper day thanks for the organisation.

She is looking to do something to repay the help she has received, and is held a fun day and charity walk to raise money. The family fun day was at Rossington Memorial Hall on McConnell Crescent, on Saturday August 8..

The drop-in centre was originally at the Holmescarr Centre, in Rossington. They are now held at the Ragusa Centre in the village, on Ragusa Road.

The drop-ins were originally set up for Marie to sit in and share information about services and support that was available for cancer patients, which Marie had initially found was not easily available.

Now they also feature experts joining John, Ann and Dawn. There are also now often visits from McMillan Nurses, from St Leger, Homes, Caring for Carers, and the Eve Merton Dreams Trust, which works to help cancer patients by providing treats and happy experiences for them.

They are getting around 20 people joining them for each session, but are keen to raise awareness.

John, aged 69, of Rossington, said: "We feel the more people come to the drop-in centre, the more people we can help. It has snowballed over the years..

"There was a point after Marie died that we would have only the three of us there. But that has turned around. It helped when we started giving patient-friendly pamper bags out at the drop-ins.

"We think sessions like this should be in all villages.

Dawn, aged 39, also of Rossington, added that there were ambitions to hold them in more venues in Doncaster, and they would be interested to hear from potential locations, and even volunteers who would like to help.

John added: "Marie's son, my grandson, once asked me 'why do you do it, doesn't it upset you'? I told him it was because I had seen cancer patients come in nervous and worried, but leave laughing and happy. That is worth its weight in gold."

Ann said: "I think Marie would be over the moon that the drop-in centre is still gong strong."

John added: "I think she's probably tell us we were doing to much - but I hope she's be proud!"

The drop-in centre runs from 11am until 1pm on the second Saturday of every month, and 6pm until 8pm on the third Tuesday of every month. From September it will also run on the first Tuesday of the month.

The trustees are also looking into the possibility of becoming a registered charity.

* Doncaster Cancer Support is on Facebook on www.facebook.com/RossingtonCancerSupportCommunity/

Marie Caygill

Marie Caygill, who died aged 47, dedicated the last few months of her life to setting up the Doncaster Cancer Support Drop In Centre - bringing together the town’s charities and support groups under one roof.

The service provides support and information to cancer patients trying to cope emotionally as well as physically and financially.

She launched the service after struggling to access support after her diagnosis in November 2013.

Speaking to The Free Press in 2015, she said: “I have struggled with how poor the services and support are for cancer patients.

“I have had to fight my way through trying to find information on how to cope financially, physically, practically and emotionally.

“This seems to be a common theme among cancer patients who realistically should be concentrating on getting better.

“I’m dying now and still I am fighting for this support. I have not been offered any throughout my treatment.

“We watch TV advertisements about how much money the big charities raise and how because of this nobody will die in pain, nobody will die alone.

“The reality is there are hundreds of people dying alone and I can tell you from firsthand experience I have had to beg for pain relief.

“I’ve set up the drop in centre for people like me so they don’t have to fight their way through this.”