POP star Joe McElderry was on Tyneside yesterday to meet teenage cancer patients and officially unveil a groundbreaking hospital unit.
South Shields-born Joe, a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT), attended the opening ceremony for a new seven-bed unit which caters for young patients.
More than £220,000 has been ploughed into the ward at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital which is specifically for adults aged between 18 and 24.
And yesterday, during the official opening of the unit, Joe met young cancer patients as he pledged his support to the charity.
The 20-year-old, who has twice taken part in the Great North Run to raise money for the charity, said: “These units are brilliant.
“At a time when the patients are going through such a difficult, massive time in their lives, this is the support they need.
“I’ve visited the units around the country, in Leeds and Scotland, and you can see the difference they can make.”
The TCT already boasts 10-bed unit at the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle that provides care for 13 to 18-year-olds. But the new centre will cater for those aged between 18 and 24 by providing a kitchen, pool table and a recreational area with a jukebox, internet and TVs.
Among those to meet Joe was Abigail Millar, from North Shields, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the beginning of the year.
Check-out supervisor Abigail made repeated trips to the hospital complaining of chest pains over Christmas but was always told she had hay fever.
Eventually medics carried out an X-ray where they discovered a 16cm tumour across her lungs and Abigail was immediately sent for a biopsy before having six weeks of chemotherapy.
Now Abigail, who lives with her mother, Teresa Hall, 44, a teaching assistant, and her father, Dennis Millar, 51, a taxi driver, has finished her treatment and is waiting for test results to determine her condition.
The 20-year-old, who has two sisters, Michelle Davies, 28, and Holly-Anne Millar, 18, said: “When I found out I had a couple of tears in the hospital but I knew I had to be strong because it really hit my family hard.
“The thing that was the hardest was that I had really long golden hair but the thought of losing it was really hard. It’s been especially hard for my younger sister because it was hard for her to hear her sister was suffering and I’m meant to be older to look out for her.
“I’ve had a scan and they’ve said the mass has shrunk so I’m waiting for more test results. The new TCT unit has been incredible – I love it, from the cleaners to the hospital staff.”
Abigail’s mother, Teresa, said: “The new unit is about more than just facilities and equipment, it’s about the people that work here. I remember Abigail was upset because her hair was falling out and a cleaner came in and gave her a hug. They’re wonderful.”
Dave Shaw, deputy director of services at TCT, said: “We are incredibly excited to see the unit up and running and are confident that our patients, their families and unit staff will benefit from the specialist support and care it provides.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to the hospital and to everyone who has been involved in supporting Teenage Cancer Trust locally over the last few years.”
Sir Leonard Fenwick, chief executive at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This is a tremendous boost in providing support and facilities for young people. The contribution is much appreciated by everyone.”
The new unit aims to bring young people together to be treated by teenage cancer experts in an environment tailored to their needs.
Designed to feel like a home from home, the walls are bright, each room is individually styled and there is a place to watch films and surf the internet.
I’ve visited the units around the country and you can see the difference they can make