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Terminally ill Sunderland graduate inspires fundraising

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Published on 29 March 2023

Maggie Lewis, centre, cheered on fundraisers at the Shrimp Platoon sea dip
Maggie Lewis, centre, cheered on fundraisers at the Shrimp Platoon sea dip

Maggie Lewis, a University of Sunderland graduate from Tunstall, has been given the devastating diagnosis that she has terminal cancer at the age of 49, but the community psychiatric nurse’s strength and resilience in the face of adversity has inspired a huge wave of fundraising.

Determined to help others, the mum-of-one suggested her colleagues from the Sunderland North Mental Health Team help her raise funds for the city’s Veterans in Crisis (VICs), a lifeline CIC which supports the veteran community.

It’s a cause close to Maggie’s heart as both a veteran herself and in her role as a mental health nurse.

She served in the Royal Navy between 1991 and 1994, where she met husband Jason, and it gave her a deep understanding of the issues affecting veterans, which has made her an invaluable support when she underwent three placements at VICs whilst she undertook her mental health nurse training at Sunderland University.

The grandma-of-two was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 whilst in her final year of training but, despite juggling gruelling courses of treatment, didn’t miss one day of work and would often work from home.

Though she completed that treatment, Maggie was given the news that the cancer had returned in her brain in February this year.

Inspired by her determination, colleagues set up a JustGiving Page to raise £500 for VICs and have doubled that target with a sponsored sea dip and walk from South Shields to Sunderland.

Donna Turner, pathway manager from Sunderland North Mental Health Team, which is based at Monkwearmouth Hospital, said: “She was adamant that the diagnosis would not interfere with her studies and she completed rounds of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy without one day off sick. The strength and determination she showed during that time was second to none and paid off.

“Mags qualified as a community psychiatric nurse in September 2022 and began her new and exciting role in Sunderland North Community Team. She settled into the role immediately and was thriving, she was running her clinic and loved working with her service users, going the extra mile at every appointment.

"Unfortunately in February 2023, following a CT head scan, Mags and her family were told that the dreaded cancer had spread to her brain. She is currently awaiting a further round of intense radiotherapy and then further chemotherapy but as normal Mags isn’t thinking of herself she’s thinking how she can raise money for a good cause whilst she can."

Ashleigh Armstrong, clinical lead at the mental health team, said: “We’re a close knit team and we’ve been with Mags since day, since she very first found a lump. She’s a brilliant nurse and would never let her initial treatment stop her training. In the short space of time she’s been a nurse there’s been incredible feedback from service users.”

Sam Neil, support worker from VICS, which is based in Roker, said: “Vets relate to vets and Mags has been brilliant with our service users, she knows exactly where they’re coming from. To raise money for them while she can is an incredible thing to do.”

She added: "I also served with Maggie in the Navy and she’s the strongest, most inspirational person I’ve met in my life.”

Although Maggie wasn’t well enough to dip in the sea, she was in attendance for the Shrimp Platoon sea dip which took place earlier this month.

Since launching, VICs has proved a real lifeline of support for Sunderland’s large community of veterans, providing everything from free Christmas dinners to helping people move into their own homes and helping them on a pathway of employment.

You can donate to the VICs fundraiser at JustGiving.com


*Original article was first published in the Sunderland Echo