THE Hunts Post is backing a £1million appeal to build an expansion at The Woodlands Centre for cancer patients at Hinchingbrooke Hospital.Reporter Stephen Waite was given an insight into the inspiring work that has been going on there for more than 15 years.

The sound of laughing might not be what you would expect to hear at a cancer unit.

But that’s exactly what can be heard from beyond the busy waiting area at the Woodlands Centre.

Lynda Hall, lead nurse for palliative and cancer care and centre manager, said: “You walk into the place and hear people laughing and that’s patients and staff. It’s not doom and gloom at all.

“I think we’re well known for having a really positive atmosphere here. We wish we could take it, bottle it and take it elsewhere.”

Mrs Hall has been at Woodlands since it opened. “Before then, we had a clinic and a makeshift room where we gave chemo- therapy,” she said. “It wasn’t a nice environment, there was no real privacy.”

The ribbon was cut by Prince Charles in January 1998. The centre cost about £1million, half paid for by Macmillan Cancer Support and half through fund- raising.

Built specifically for treating cancer and haematology patients – people with cancer of the blood – it caters for adults and older teenagers from Huntingdonshire.

Anyone who is sent there has either been diagnosed with cancer or has undergone tests to find out if any is present.

Dr Cheryl Palmer, consultant oncologist, who supports patients through their options and treatment, said the first visit can understandably be the most nerve-racking, particulary for those who are there to learn their fate.

“I think they often come in very anxious, very scared but once they know what they are facing and what the options are, they feel reassured and safe.

“The treatment is the same as patients would get at Addenbrooke’s or Peterborough, a high-quality service.”

Courses of chemotherapy are given at Woodlands, where patients sit for hours at a time in one of the unit’s treatment chairs.

Its services also include various outpatient clinics, transfusions and supportive therapies, such as steroids, as well as complementary therapies, such as acupuncture.

Everyone is given access to a 24-hour helpline for support and advice, to give them answers and peace of mind.

It is also where patients go for follow up appointments, sometimes up to five years after their first visit.

There are about 30 members of staff, a mix of full and part-time roles, including Macmillan nurses who look after patients with incurable cancers.

Mrs Hall said it took someone special to work there. “You cannot come into this job if you don’t care about people. You treat every patient as you would want your family to be treated, that’s the key.

“It’s a great team. We all genuinely get on well.”

Their efforts were acknowledged by Macmillan, which presented the unit with a Quality Environment award in October last year, recognition of its high standards and that patients’ dignity, privacy and opinions are respected.

Sometimes it is bad news that has to be delivered, when cancer has taken hold in such a way that nothing can be done.

Dr Palmer said team members needed an inner strength to deal with those difficult times. “There are times when you take it home, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. But it’s vital the team enjoys coming to work.”

She said patients were an inspiration to staff, with how they cope.

“I think we all at some stage would have shed our tears as well. It’s impossible not to. There are patients that you might have been looking after for a number of years who you have to tell there’s nothing else we can do. You have to be honest and then support them through a very difficult stage.”

According to research by Macmillan, two million people were living with or beyond cancer in Britain in 2008 and the figure will reach four million by 2030 if the rate of increase continues.

At Woodlands, the range of treatment options has improved and increased, including antibody treatments, a more targeted method than chemotherapy, which kills all cells.

The centre’s current capacity cannot keep up with the amount of time it takes to administer the medication, hence the need for an expansion. Once built, the extra space will mean the number of treatment chairs can increase from six to 15, reducing waiting times, while there will be an extra bed for patients who need one.

The result is that staff will be able to do even more life-saving work and continue to help more people beat cancer – even though the care has been so good that some don’t want it to end.

“When patients get to the end of their treatment they often do not want to finish and find reasons to come back,” said Dr Palmer. “They put so much trust in you. I think it’s a privilege to work here.”

INFORMATION: If you have a fundraising idea or can help the centre, e-mail editor@hunts-post.co.uk