A private look into Cancerwise: ‘The best kept secret in West Sussex’

Cancerwise clients catch up over a cup of tea inside the Chichester centre. Kate Shemilt ks171455-8
Cancerwise clients catch up over a cup of tea inside the Chichester centre. Kate Shemilt ks171455-8

“You make so many friends coming here but you also lose a lot.”

David Gillespie, 73, is now in remission from bowel cancer and secondary cancer in his liver.

Manager Lisa Joy. ks171455-5

Manager Lisa Joy. ks171455-5

His words stopped the conversation in the room at Cancerwise as each person thought about someone they had lost whilst on their cancer journey.

I recently found out about the charity in Basin Road, Chichester, after my mum, Sara Pelling, was diagnosed with breast cancer and I have to say I don’t know where she would be without it.

The Cancerwise team pride themselves on being unique to the area regarding the services they provide, which includes couselling, therapies and more, as well as the ‘nobody is turned away’ ethos they work by.

Recently I have had a close relationship with Cancerwise as I hoped I could help to save the vital charity with reports in the paper.

David Gillespie. ks171455-3

David Gillespie. ks171455-3

About a month ago, the charity, which is non-government funded, was struck with a financial crisis meaning the doors would have to close within two months if urgent action wasn’t taken.

Carol Davis, 74, started using Cancerwise in 2008. I asked her how she felt when she heard the charity may have to close and she said: “I was honestly devastated, I can’t imagine being without the charity. It’s a lifeline to so many and means so much.”

Sadly the charity had to resort to selling its art studio which was located behind the main building in the business units.

Even though this was a hard decision to make it had to be done. The art classes that were held in the unit will now be back in the main building.

Jacky Smith. ks171455-1

Jacky Smith. ks171455-1

Speaking to the Observer last week, Lisa Joy the centre manager said: “Even though the art classes will be a bit of a tight squeeze, we are all one big family and we can work around it.”

The art classes are open to people who have been affected by cancer. The ladies who spoke to me described it as great way to shift their focus into something creative.

My mum is a regular at the class and the work she produces is beautiful. The classes have given mum a little breathing space and time to focus on her art as she never could before.

Sara said: “The art classes have really helped me express myself and explore different types of art.”

Carol Davis. ks171455-2

Carol Davis. ks171455-2

Another one of the vital services offered at Cancerwise is a stoma support group which was set up by Carol. The group members meet to discuss tips and experiences with each other.

Carol said: “People who come that have stomas say it is the best thing they have ever done. We had a lady come to the group who had only had her operation three weeks ago, I think that shows how important we are.”

David spoke about a friend he made who lived alone and while suffering with cancer felt even more isolated. However, Cancerwise was there to guide them through and give them a sense of belonging within a ‘family’ of people who have all been through the same experiences.

That’s what Cancerwise is really, nothing fancy just a group of people who want to be together and help each other through one of life’s hardest journeys. It’s a place people affected by cancer can go to sit with a coffee and relax even if they don’t take part in the sessions.

One thing I picked up on while sitting with these inspirational people was how positive they stayed. I had to almost remind myself that I was sat in a room of people who have been affected by cancer. That’s what Cancerwise does, it gives people a safe space to be themselves. It’s not just about having cancer, it’s about learning to deal with it or just catching up with new friends.

Another thing that struck me with Cancerwise was the atmosphere. I expected it to be a clinical building, with white walls and sterile surfaces but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Chrissy Gosiewski. ks171455-4

Chrissy Gosiewski. ks171455-4

As you walk through the door it’s as though you have come home. Lisa Joy, centre manager, welcomes each person through the door with a wide smile and hug.

Lisa said: “Many say that they find the hardest part just stepping through the door, but they soon know they have made the right decision.

“We are a family here, no one is left behind and we care for one another. We couldn’t be without Cancerwise, it’s too valuable and the best kept secret in all of West Sussex.”

Chrissy Gosiewski was diagnosed in 2012 and sadly she became depressed by 2013 and needed support.

Chrissy said: “One day I decided to park outside of town because it’s cheaper. However, on my way in I walked past the Cancerwise building, I walked back the same way and then decided I should give it a go. I hadn’t heard of it before but I was so lucky to just stumble upon it.

“It’s not just counselling, I have had most of the therapies here. My favourite is reflexology.”

All the therapies put on by the charity are free unless the client wishes to make a donation.

David said: “You aren’t expected to make a donation, if you can’t afford it it doesn’t matter. No one is told they can’t have a treatment or take part in a class. Cancer can affect you financially and they really understand that here.”

The centre also holds practical help sessions regarding making a will or looking into power of attorneys.

David said: “It is a way of planning ahead, it’s something that has to be done.”

Jacky Smith was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lost her hair due to the treatment. When it stated growing back she felt it wasn’t right and not like how it was before. So with determination and bravery she decided to shave it off to raise money for Cancerwise. Overall Jacky raised £300 and now feels as though she has really helped with the efforts to keep the doors open.

The Observer has written two articles about the decline in finance within the charity and something that touched my heart was a call from Lisa, in which she said: “Even though, Ellie, we haven’t had any large donations, your article has helped people find us. People who needed our support but didn’t know we were here. That is the most important part.”

On behalf of the Cancerwise team I must mention Colin Porter who sadly lost his battle with cancer this year. In the time he was part of Cancerwise he got involved with everything and raised a lot of funds.

I feel truly honored these brave people felt they could speak to me about their stories and let me put it out there for others to connect with. As I left there was an air of conviction in the room which filled me with sense that Cancerwise is here to stay and wherever they are, the bond between clients wont be broken easily.

For more information or to donate, visit: www.cancerwise.org.uk