Shoulder to cry on in the high street: A drop-in centre with a difference in Liverpool offers care and advice for cancer sufferers

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THE WEEK before her operation for breast cancer was the worst of Norma Lupton's life. 'I just kept thinking I was going to die. It was a horrible time. At least my family kept me going. What do people do who have no one to talk to?'

Tomorrow, Mrs Lupton will begin to find out when the country's first high street cancer 'shop' opens its doors in Liverpool.

She is one of 29 volunteers who will support 50 trained cancer nurses providing a rota of daily practical advice and shoulders to cry on for any cancer patients or members of their families who walk through the doors of the new Macmillan Cancer Information Centre.

It is such an evidently good idea that it is hard to see why an easy route to access to cancer information has not been provided before. In fact, Maureen Newton, manager of the centre, has been quietly insisting for five years that the need should be met.

The Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund is opening the centre, with the support of Merseyside health authorities and hospital trusts, as a pilot for a network across the country.

There is a comfortable reception area, three 'living rooms' and a small library. Ms Newton said: 'People can just come in and read up, if that is what they want. They don't have to talk to anybody. We want to create a nice, calming atmosphere.'

Lights can be lowered for information videos to be shown; there is even a 'vanity unit' where callers can repair the ravages of tears.

Once a week, a Department of Social Security information officer will be on duty to help with benefit queries arising from incapacity, and a breast care nurse will also provide specialist advice.

The volunteers, like Mrs Lupton, have all been cancer patients and have received training in communication and listening skills, crisis management, bereavement counselling and in the different types of cancer.

Ms Newton was a district nurse and then a Macmillan nurse providing cancer care at home for patients and their families.

'When I was working in Toxteth and seeing patients on a regular basis I wondered just where people were supposed to go to get this sort of service when they wanted it, not when the doctors decided it was time to be referred to a cancer nurse.'

Macmillan Cancer Information Centre; 45 Ranelagh Street, Liverpool; Monday to Friday, 11am-4pm.

(Photograph omitted)