65 years of cancer care at Clatterbridge

Video report by Granada Reports journalist Claire Hannah

A Liverpool woman with an extraordinary family connection to The Clatterbridge CancerCentre has been helping it celebrate its 65th birthday.

Helen Blanchard’s mother, Maureen Duncan, was only 21 when she moved from Glasgow toMerseyside in 1957 to be part of the team that would open the new cancer hospitalin Clatterbridge, near Bebington on the Wirral.

Helen's mum Maureen, on the right Credit: Helen Blanchard

It saw cancer care in the region move from a smaller Victorian building in Liverpool city centre.

Maureen was dual-qualified in therapeutic and diagnostic radiography at Weston Hospital in Glasgow after being fascinated by radiation treatment for cancer because she had radiotherapy herself as a very young child for a very different reason.

She had a port wine stain on her forehead and, incredibly, irradiation was offered as a cosmetic ‘cure’ back in the 1930s.

Helen said her mum was a "real high flier" but was interested in radiography and it was a shorter course than medicine where she would have had to live at home for another five years."

The new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre cost £160,000 to build. It opened on March 28, 1958 and it was big news in the area.

The Liverpool Daily Post ran a two page spread on the centre opening Credit: ITV news

The Liverpool Daily Post ran a double page spread on it, and Maureen was on one of the photos showing one of the radiotherapy machines.

The room had a folding floor which opened up so the machine could get under the patient without the patient having to move.

Helen's mum worked at the hospital from 1957 to 1964 but in another sign of how things have changed in the last 65 years, she had to leave her job when she got married.

Helen's mum can be seen in the top left of this photo Credit: ITV news

Two decades later, in 1984, Helen followed in Maureen’s footsteps and spent three years atThe Clatterbridge Cancer Centre herself as a student nurse.

She later returned as a staff nurse but found she particularly enjoyed caring for the children who were brought to the cancer centre for radiotherapy every day from Arrowe Park.

As a result, she decided to specialise in paediatric nursing and then as a midwife.

In a twist of fate Helen returned to Clatterbridge in 2014 where she underwent successful treatment for breast cancer.

Sadly, Maureen passed away in 2011 but Helen thinks her mum would have been fascinated by how radiotherapy has advanced over the decades.

She said: "So much has changed over the last 65 years and cancer care has come sofar, it's incredible to think mum was part of the team that created something so special."

One of Clatterbridge's current radiotherapy machines Credit: ITV news

Clatterbridge Cancer Centre has expanded again to become one of the UK’s leading cancer centres, operating across multiple sites throughout Cheshire and Merseyside, along with carrying out pioneering research.

There are three Clatterbridge Cancer Centres in Aintree, Wirral and Liverpool.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust runs treatment clinics in other hospitals across the region providing chemotherapy and other innovative drug treatments.

It even has a team of specially-trained chemotherapy nurses so patients can have their treatment at home or at work.

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