Sidmouth cancer support group celebrates 20 years of 'giving friendship' 

 Members of Sidmouth Living with Cancer

Members of Sidmouth Living with Cancer after their 20th annual thanksgiving service at All Saints Church. Left to right, Evelyn Lankester , Ron Grigg, Lynne Maxwell, Chris Grigg and Myra Goodman. - Credit: Sidmouth Living with Cancer

A group set up in December 2001 to make life as good as it can be for people with cancer is celebrating its 20th anniversary. 

Over the last two decades Sidmouth Living With Cancer has offered friendship and support to more than 200 people. 

The group was set up by Bill Lankester and his wife Evelyn after Bill was successfully treated for bowel cancer, which involved surgery and chemotherapy.  

At the time Mr and Mrs Lankester owned JKL Television Sales and Service. He recalls: “Many customers came into the shop asking questions about my illness. One person even got me to call at his home under the pretence that his television had gone wrong, when in reality he was concerned with his own worry of having cancer. I also found out about a person who was waiting to have chemotherapy and was frightened of what to expect. I put his mind at rest, telling him it was not anywhere near as bad as he was thinking.” 

Lynne Maxwell, Evelyn Lankester and Beryl Young from Sidmouth Living with Cancer, with Balfour Arms landlady Deborah Potter.

Lynne Maxwell, Evelyn Lankester and Beryl Young from Sidmouth Living with Cancer, at the Balfour Arms, Sidmouth, with landlady Deborah Potter. - Credit: Sidmouth Living with Cancer

On December 7 2001 Bill and Evelyn invited all the people who had supported them through his illness, including many fellow cancer patients, to a thanksgiving service at All Saints Church, followed by lunch at the Royal Glen Hotel. The couple had already talked about setting up a cancer support group, and the lunch gave them the chance to discuss the plan with the other guests, who welcomed the idea. So Sidmouth Living with Cancer was formed, with the aim that ‘everyone with cancer should get as much pleasure as they can out of whatever time they have left’. Bill said: "The most important thing we can do is give friendship and be there to help as much as we can."

The group, which was free to join, started organising meetings, social nights with music and entertainment, ‘bring and share’ suppers and other events. In 2010 the Sidmouth Herald helped the group to raise the funds to buy a minibus to take members out for lunches,  outings and short holiday breaks. A team of volunteer drivers began using the minibus to take members to medical appointments. 

The emphasis has always been on making life as easy as possible and providing entertainment. Occasionally a speaker at their meetings might give medical advice on how members could help themselves,  but otherwise the group does not talk about cancer during its meetings and social events. 

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When the Covid crisis hit, Sidmouth Living with Cancer provided practical help, delivering shopping to those who could not go out, and working with Peak Taxis to take members to hospital appointments and other important commitments, free of charge. 

Bill, who was awarded the MBE in 2008 for voluntary service to the Sidmouth community, described the two decades of running Sidmouth Living with Cancer as ‘wonderful’. He said: “Evelyn and I are so proud of what has been achieved during the past 20 years.  Over 200 cancer sufferers have been involved and as you can expect, we have lost many lovely people. They have all played a part in the success of the group and we know we have done our best, with the help of everyone, to have given them as much pleasure as we could have done so.” 

Lynne Maxwell, Evelyn Lankester and Beryl Young from Sidmouth Living with Cancer, with Balfour Arms landlady Deborah Potter.

Lynne Maxwell, Evelyn Lankester and Beryl Young from Sidmouth Living with Cancer, at the Balfour Arms, Sidmouth, with landlady Deborah Potter. - Credit: Sidmouth Living with Cancer

Over the last 12 months Bill and Evelyn have taken a back seat. The group’s new chair is Lynne Maxwell, with John Prescott as treasurer and Hazel Apps as secretary. Bill said: “They have brought new ideas to the group. They are doing a great job with the help of a great committee. Evelyn and I remain as trustees.” 

The group is currently hoping to increase membership, which is free, and says it would love to hear from anyone who has cancer or is caring for a cancer patient.  

Anyone who would like to have an informal chat to find out more can call Bill on 01395 577 221 or 07880 553926, or Lynne on 07779 919900.