Video: Couple living under cancer shadow back appeal to bring support centre to Leeds

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Robin and Harriet Dow are living under the shadow of cancer.

Though Harriet looks healthy, and lives a full and active life, the 39-year-old has incurable cancer.

Robin and Harriet Dow

Robin and Harriet Dow

She was first diagnosed in 2001, aged just 24, underwent treatment and was given the all clear.

But in 2014, tests showed the cancer had spread and though surgery and chemotherapy treated the illness, it cannot be cured.

Despite facing this nightmare, Robin and Harriet are determined to do all they can to bring a new support centre for people affected by cancer to Leeds.

The Yorkshire Evening Post’s A Million for Maggie’s Appeal is aiming to raise £1m towards the creation of a Maggie’s centre at St James’s Hospital, opposite the Leeds Cancer Centre.

Robin and Harriet Dow.

Robin and Harriet Dow.

The purpose-built facility will be the first in Yorkshire run by the Maggie’s charity and will offer free practical, emotional and social support to patients, their family and friends.

“The reason I’m supporting Maggie’s is that it’s needed,” said Robin, from Knaresborough.

“Most people are touched by cancer in some way, shape or form and it would be good to have a positive outcome for something which is so negative.”

Robin, 41, said that being told his wife had secondary breast cancer felt “like we’d been hit by a sledgehammer”.

Harriet Dow

Harriet Dow

He said the treatment which followed, including for an unrelated case of thyroid cancer which was also found, became their normality.

Harriet is now doing well and he said he was “immensely proud” of how the mum-of-one had coped.

“It has completely changed her life and every day throws both physical and mental barriers in her way,” he said.

“She’s doing as well as we could have possibly asked for. Her last scan showed there’s no sign of cancer in her body which is amazing.

“But it still has a massive impact on her life. It’s always there, it’s always on her mind, it never goes away. That’s the difficult thing.”

Coping with the fact that she will never be cured is extremely difficult for Harriet, Robin and their families and friends.

Robin, who works for the prison service, said: “That feeling of helplessness is impossible to explain and torments me every day.”

One thing which does help is expert support, provided in a warm atmosphere by those who understand. That’s what the Maggie’s centre being built in Leeds will provide.

“I went to the new centre in Manchester and I was completely blown away by it – the support, the atmosphere and the whole set-up,” Robin added.

“When you walk into a Maggie’s centre, everyone just gets it. You can go and talk about cancer, you can go and not talk about it at all - you can go and get the reassurance you need.

“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to people you don’t know than those you do.”

The keen cyclist and a team of friends are taking on four mammoth cycling challenges this summer to raise money for the A Million for Maggie’s Appeal, as well as the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre at Harrogate District Foundation Trust, where Harriet receives amazing treatment.

Robin has found the sport therapeutic and is now in training for the 100km Tour De Yorkshire Ride in April, the 108-mile Yorkshire Struggle in May, an 150-mile Coast to Coast ride in June and the 100-mile Ride London in July, with kit provided by Ilkley firm Fat Lad at the Back.

“This is a massive challenge but we are a mentally – and a wee bit physically – strong team,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to getting out and doing these events.”

The new Maggie’s centre will be a warm, non-clinical oasis for people with cancer and their families.

Just a stone’s throw from the Bexley Wing at St James’s Hospital, a major cancer treatment centre, the facility will offer a programme of support.

The national Maggie’s charity runs a network of centres across the country offering free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends.

Acclaimed architect Thomas Heatherwick, who designed the Olympic flame cauldron’ at London 2012, has drawn up plans for the eye-catching building featuring a roof adorned with plants.

The ethos behind the Maggie’s buildings, which are all individually designed, is to create an attractive, non-clinical space with a homely atmosphere.

It is expected that around 30,000 people a year will visit the Leeds Maggie’s centre in Leeds, to get support an information on everything from what benefits they can claim to how to eat well.

Or visitors can simply sit and have a chat and a cup of tea with others who understand what they’re going through.

In April, the YEP launched its A Million For Maggie’s fundraising appeal and has already collected £250,000 - a quarter of its £1m target.

Now Robin Dow’s four cycling challenges are set to contribute to that total even further.

“What’s amazing about Maggie’s is that it’s non-clinical,” he said.

“People might be doing yoga, they might be doing a course on what comes next after cancer.

“One of the biggest things a lot of people struggle with is when the treatment finishes.

“That’s why it’s so good that this sort of support from Maggie’s is available.

“You’ve got the main cancer treatment centre in Yorkshire and next door you’re going to have this place that someone who is having treatment, or their family, can go to and relax.”

Ben Feely, centre fundraising manager for Maggie’s Yorkshire, thanked Robin for his efforts for the appeal.

“Robin has set himself an incredible set of challenges to raise money to support our campaign and we are here to cheer him on all the way.

“Without people like Robin, we simply would not be able to bring Maggie’s to Yorkshire. Every single penny we need comes from donations from our supporters, so we are so grateful to those helping to make Maggie’s Yorkshire a reality.”

* We are determined to raise A Million for Maggie’s - and here’s how you can help.

You could take on a personal challenge or organise events and donate the proceeds, or your company could set up a corporate partnership to support the appeal by matching employee fundraising.

You can make a one-off gift of £5 or £10 to Maggie’s Yorkshire by texting MYEP99 £5 or £10 to 70070, or by sending a cheque payable to Maggie’s centres to, c/o Ben Feely, Maggie’s Centres, The Gatehouse, 10 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G11 6PA, with the reference: YEP A Million for Maggie’s. For more, visit www.maggiescentres.org/millionformaggies, follow @maggiesyorks on Twitter or see facebook.com/maggiesyorkshire.

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