Published 24 July 2010
Vicki Adkins: Inspiring dedication to cancer care in Hertfordshire
When Vicki Adkins’ world was turned upside down by cancer, she dedicated her life to helping fellow sufferers and has now been awarded an MBE for her tireless work.
‘ALL of my tests showed that the lump was not cancerous. The biopsy, the mammogram and the ultra sound all came back negative. So as you can imagine, it came as a bit of a shock when my breast surgeon told me it was cancerous. I remember thinking, they’ve got this wrong – people like me don’t get breast cancer.’
Vicki Adkins was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 at the age of 49. She had surgery to remove the lump at the QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City before undergoing six weeks of radiotherapy. Eleven years on and the dedicated mother-of-two has been nominated for an MBE for her services to breast cancer sufferers across Hertfordshire and has become an inspiration to thousands.
It was during one of Vicki’s regular check-ups at the QEII that she made the life-changing decision to help others. A distraught young woman ran sobbing out of one of the examination rooms closely followed by her husband.
‘I felt very sad that this woman had nowhere to go. I was angry that in the 20th century we had to put up with these conditions,’ says Vicki, who lives with her husband Anthony in Cuffley.
‘What we needed was some privacy, somewhere to cry and talk about our feelings. You don’t want people to see the stress you’re going through.’
Determined that no one else should go through the same undignified experience, Vicki helped set up a local support group and launched the Hertfordshire Breast Unit Appeal.
After a meeting with the Chairman of the former East Hertfordshire NHS Trust, Vicki was given a target of 250,000 to help build a suitable environment for breast cancer patients on the QEII grounds. As costs spiralled, the target increased to 500,000.
‘I didn’t have a clue how I was going to do it, I’d never been on a committee before or done any fundraising,’ explains Vicki. ‘But if I say I’m going to do something I’ll do it. My husband wanted to sell up, retire and live happily ever after. But I didn’t want cancer to change my life – I guess it has in more ways than one.’
Vicki has dedicated the last nine years of her life to raising more than 1milllion towards a state-of-the-art breast cancer care clinic. With joint investment from the NHS and the Herts Breast Unit Appeal, the 2.4million one-stop clinic boasts the latest digital mammography, ultrasound and biopsy equipment, ensuring speedy detection and diagnosis.
The opening of the Vicki Adkins Breast Unit last September marked the completion of one of the largest NHS and charity collaborations in the history of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust. With private consulting rooms, a tranquil garden designed by 80s pop star Kim Wilde, an information and support area and stunning pink artwork, it’s no wonder patients find the unit so calming.
Vicki will be heading to Buckingham Palace on October 18 to collect her MBE. ‘I’m really excited about meeting the Queen and getting my medal,’ she adds. ‘It’s recognition for all the people who have supported me all these years. When I see the unit, I wonder how on earth I did it. It makes you realise that no matter who you are you can achieve whatever you want in life. The first spring after I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, I suddenly realised how beautiful the flower buds were opening. Nature is amazing. You take it for granted, just like you take your health for granted. The best things in life really are free.
‘My husband has been fantastic. Half of the MBE is his really – perhaps I’ll give him the ribbon and I’ll keep hold of the medal.’