Why did you become a nurse and, in addition, an oncologist?

That’s what my mother asked herself when I told her I wanted to be an oncology nurse. And she warned me that I had never been a caregiver.

Did the mother’s comment offend you?

On the contrary, I thought: “Well, now you’ll see.” And I went to Edinburgh to study nursing and then to London to specialize in oncology.

Why oncology?

Because I have always thought that the most interesting and wonderful thing for people are other people. And, in treating cancer, I could get to know them for months and years and have deep, long-lasting relationships with them. Feel that it was useful and share it.

Aren’t you sad to see some die?

Cancer treatment is often brutal and leaves them devastated; but, for that very reason, it is when you can make a difference in their lives… It is the wonderful opportunity to feel that we fight together and win.

Suffering is bad; having suffered, well.

I have also experienced it with them! And after suffering they have given new meaning to their lives and also to mine. And don’t think that the experience of cancer is distant for anyone.

I’m afraid it’s hard to think about.

When I started as a nurse, in the UK we had one in four citizens diagnosed with cancer; Now we are approaching one in two.

Doesn’t it increase because we live longer?

In young people, cancer also increases by 2% per year, especially of the lung and larynx, so that in 2040 we will have 30% more patients.

Why do you think there are more cancers?

The pollution we suffer today is less observable than the fumes of yesteryear, but more carcinogenic, like that of microplastics.

How did Maggie’s Foundation start?

I met Maggie Keswick 30 years ago, when she was 53 and had advanced breast cancer. Maggie was an influential architect, and her husband, Charles Jones, a no less influential critic. At the hospital, Maggie did not accept being just another patient.

In what sense?

Back then there was no internet and patients accepted with resignation whatever the doctors told them. Maggie, on the other hand, wanted to be proactive in her own healing…


He was a wonderful person surrounded by great creators like Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano… and he wanted to know everything about his treatment, and we were not used to that…

Have you ever been a “yes, doctor” patient?

He never settled without questioning, and when he went back and forth between his home in Los Angeles and Edinburgh, he ended up proving that the hospital there was better in some ways…

Which is it?

He said that in the UK we were behind the US in helping patients help themselves…

He was right?

All of it, but he was not satisfied with just having it: he wrote a patient manual. And he began to design spaces as an architect so that the hospital would not isolate the patient from nature or make him feel worse than in his house and, in short, would not add pain to that already inflicted by cancer and its treatment.

What was Maggie proposing?

He didn’t propose: he did. He convinced Frank Gehry, still creating at 94, to erect our Dundee building pro bono; and Richard Rogers to project the one in London; while Norman Foster took over the Manchester project.

Were the results up to your standards?

They are not only an aesthetic challenge, but a place to recover the illusion of living…

Did that help Maggie during her illness?

Maggie survived 18 months worrying about all those projects, now a reality; and, in the end, she commissioned me, after demanding a lot from me, to succeed her at the head of the Maggie’s Foundation. And that’s why I’m in Barcelona today, to help at our Kalida center.

Why did you choose Barcelona too?

Because Enric Miralles had designed the magnificent Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh… before he, too, suffered and died from cancer.

He also left a great work here.

And Benedetta Tagliabue presided over the tribunal that awarded Rogers for our building and the Miralles Tagliabue studio built it on the Sant Pau campus: we call it Kalida. Kalida also financed a Scottish cancer patient who lived in Barcelona.

How is it different from a hospital?

It does not differentiate: it complements hospital care and helps the patient in what the system cannot: giving emotional, psychological and social support to him and his family: from diagnosis to healing, for example, with aesthetic and reconstructive surgery.