When Chris Knighton’s husband died of asbestos related cancer just seven months after diagnosis, she threw herself into founding a support group for others in the same devastating situation.
Fast-forward 15 years and the Tyneside-based group has grown to become the biggest of its kind in the country.
Mick Knighton passed away from mesothelioma aged just 59 in 2001 and realising they were not alone, Chris wanted to create a group as a way to establish a network of people who were going through the same experiences.
The following year, The North Tyneside Mesothelioma Support Group (NTMSG) was born and since that time has supported many people with the industrial disease and their loved ones, during the traumatic period from diagnosis to bereavement and beyond.
The group has grown considerably over the past few years, and takes in people from across Tyneside, Wearside and Northumberland, several of whom have been attending for many years having found friendship and support from people in a similar position to themselves.
Having secured Lottery funding for three consecutive years, as well as its monthly meeting in Walker, North Tyneside – where the funding has enabled them to cover costs and equipment – NTMSG is able to finance trips for its members. As well as days out and coach trips, opportunities also include attendance at the annual national Patient and Carers Day, which offers the chance to meet fellow patients, families and healthcare professionals from across the UK.
Chris is now known nationwide as a passionate campaigner and founder of the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund (MKMRF) to raise awareness of, and fund research into, the disease. The charity, which has raised over £1.5m, also finances the role of a specialist mesothelioma nurse for the North East.
Dedicating her life to help those affected, Chris previously spoke to the Chronicle about the rising numbers of people diagnosed with the killer disease.
She said: “It certainly isn’t a disease from yesterday. It is very much for the now and the future.
“It’s like a ticking timebomb which is now exploding.”
Linda Scott, Chair of NTMSG, said the group has an important role to play in the growing levels of support and provision available to people diagnosed with mesothelioma.
“Back when the group was first founded no-one really knew what mesothelioma was, so it played an important role in raising awareness of the disease,” she said.
“In an area where we have so many people being diagnosed due to the old industries we had in the North East, it is so important to have something like this group for people to come along to.
“We have grown a lot over the years, and while we are called the North Tyneside Mesothelioma Support Group, we have people coming from all over Northumberland, Tyneside and Wearside, such is the reputation our group has now.
“We don’t talk about the illness, we just provide friendship and support at a time people need it most, and some of the friendships made here last a lifetime. We’ve all been there, we all know exactly what it is like and how difficult it is to cope, to grieve and to eventually move on. But we get through it together and that is such a valuable thing to have.”
Madeleine Graham travels from Swarland, Northumberland, for each meeting, and has been part of NTMSG for 14 years, since her late husband was first diagnosed.
“It was such an important group for us to find. I didn’t even know what mesothelioma was when my husband was told he had it. The support and friendship I have found here has supported me through the darkest times of when we were preparing for him to pass away, and even 14 years on, I still come here,” she said.
Peter Gibson, from Warkworth, added: “I first saw the group advertised in the hospital when my wife was undergoing treatment, and I’m really pleased I found it. I’ve been coming since 2008 and at first, when I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry on after losing my wife, it got me out and made me feel able to think about moving on. I have got a lot out of this group and I still do.”
The group is held on the last Friday of every month, from 11am to 1pm, at Walkerville Community Centre.
It is always open to new members. Contact Linda on 0191 2575448 or Mary on 0191 2575153.
Source : Chroniclelive