Margaret King was a member of the College's Clinical Oncology Patients Liaison Group (COPLG) from its inception in 1998 until 2002, and its vice chair from 2000. Her enthusiasm and commitment inspired everyone who worked with her on this and the many other groups on which she represented patients. Margaret qualified originally as a social worker, then, after combining work and part-time study for several years with a view to becoming a solicitor, she graduated with a first in law. In 1993, during her articles and at the age of 37, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Margaret was unhappy with some aspects of her initial care, particularly a lack of written information and of maintenance of privacy. She said later: My treatment was not bad, but could have been better. If that had happened to me, a trained social worker and solicitor, other people couldn't have been getting the best.From that point, for the next ten years, she devoted almost all her spare time and energy to campaigning for cancer patients, and those with breast cancer in particular. As Margaret once remarked, Reading a novel is novel, but I know Ive made a difference to cancer services, so I'm happy to do it.
Margaret worked with many organisations to bring about real changes in the way cancer patients are treated, both as patients and as people. She had well thought out views on almost every aspect of patient care, which she would express with ebullient and cheerful conviction. It mattered to her greatly, for example, that cancer patients in some hospitals would face prescription charges for out-patient drugs and wigs which were not levied in other units.
Margaret joined the National Cancer Alliance and became a founder member and then vice chair of the UK Breast Cancer Coalition. She was a founder member of the UK Coordinating Committee for Cancer Research [now the National Cancer Research Institute] Consumer Liaison Group and was able to influence the design of national trials for women with breast cancer, to make them more acceptable to patients. Margaret was appointed to the GMC's Fitness to Practise Committee and she worked as a patient advocate for a number of other organisations, including Breakthrough Breast Cancer, CancerBackup, Macmillan, NICE, RAGE, the Joint Collegiate Council for Oncology, a Department of Health group looking at new ways of working in radiotherapy, the START trial Management Group, the Lymphoedema Support Network and her local cancer network. Margaret was in considerable demand as a participant in cancer patient workshops and as a speaker at conferences. In 2000 she was awarded the All Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer Special Contribution Award at a large reception at the House of Commons.
In her time on the COPLG Margaret led two of the group's major projects, the development of the booklets of best practice, Making your radiotherapy department more patient-friendly and then Making your chemotherapy department more patient-friendly. The former booklet has been shown to have influenced change in the majority of radiotherapy departments, in areas such as providing information about treatment, the maintenance of privacy and dignity and in surveying the views of patients. That the COPLG became established as an effective catalyst for change nationally, and as a valuable resource for the College, was in a large part a result of Margaret's ability to bring people together and foster good relationships among her colleagues.
No one who knew Margaret could fail to respond to the words that tumbled out of her at top speed, a tidal wave of ideas, observations, suggestions and questions that carried everyone along with her. Even when her illness was at its worst, she was resolutely positive and maintained impressive courage. When she could no longer speak because the cancer had spread to her neck, she would write long, enthusiastic letters that read exactly as she spoke, the words squeezed onto the page to get all her thoughts down while there was still time.
Margaret was a truly remarkable person. She did much to improve the cancer journey for patients, past, present and future, although almost all of them will have been or will be unaware of their debt to her. We were privileged to know her and to be able to work with her.