Chai Cancer Care was established in 1990 by two remarkable women: Frances Winegarten z’l and Susan Shipman, both of whom had personal experience of living with the impact of a cancer diagnosis.
Frances was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and despite a very poor prognosis, survived for 26 years. Susan’s daughter Natalie was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was just 3 years old and sadly passed away shortly before her eighth birthday.
Despite tremendous support from family and friends, both of them felt isolated with no opportunity to share what they were going through. They were determined to break the taboo that existed at the time, so that others should have access to specialised support.
They chose the word Chai, the Hebrew word for life, to be the name of their fledgling organisation. It embraced their belief and experience that people live with and beyond a cancer diagnosis, whatever the outcome. This is a philosophy that has been central to Chai since its inception.
Starting as a telephone helpline from Frances’ home, the organisation grew to a small, two-roomed office in Golders Green, then in 1995 to half a floor in what is now Shield House. In response to the relentless need, Chai moved to its current prominent site in 2003. The development continued with satellite centres in Redbridge (2007), South London (2008), North Manchester (2009), Glasgow (2010), Hackney (2010), South Manchester (2010) and Southend (2010), Leeds (2011), Liverpool (2011), Birmingham (2015).
Recognising that there are times when clients cannot visit a Chai centre, either because they are newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment or in the terminal stages, in 2003 Chai launched its Home Support Service. All services (with the exception of group activities) can now be accessed by clients in their homes, hospitals or hospices.
For those not close to a Chai centre, counselling and advisory services can also be accessed over the phone or through Skype. In this way, Chai is a truly national and international organisation, supporting clients across the entire UK, in Europe, Israel, South Africa and the USA.
Rates of cancer incidence in the UK have increased by 27% since 2001* and Chai continues to innovate and expand to meet this relentless need. 12 years ago Chai was supporting just over 400 clients. Currently over 3,200 cancer patients and their loved ones are benefitting from Chai’s expertise and care.
Starting with a telephone helpline, Chai now provides 58 specialised services offering practical, emotional and physical support.
Services include advisory services, counselling, children, teenage and family services, complementary therapies, group activities and support groups. (See side panel for full list.)
Chai in Schools
Responding to the dramatic rise of diagnoses amongst those in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s – many of whom will have young children - for the last 13 years Chai has been offering services specifically for children and teenagers.
Chai in Schools was developed in 2012 to give teaching staff the strategies to support children going through this difficult time. With the specialist knowledge Chai has within its Children, Teenage & Family Service, Chai understands the issues that children are experiencing and works with 23 primary and secondary schools across the UK.
Medical Outpatient Rehabilitation and Palliative Care Service
Thankfully, over 50% of people will make a full recovery and many more will live for far longer, albeit with long term and significant physical and emotional changes as a result of their cancer treatment.
In 2010, Chai initiated a ground-breaking three-way partnership between the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, Marie Curie Cancer Care and Chai; establishing an outpatient clinic based at the Chai flagship centre in North West London for survivorship needs.
The clinic works in partnership with other professionals involved in patients’ care, including GPs, District Nurses, Hospital Consultants, Palliative Care Teams and other specialists.
Louise Hager (Chairman), Jonathan Hodes, Lady Kalms MBE, Richard Segal, Susan Shipman (Founder President), Dr Adrian Tookman, Philip Weinstein, Lord Young CH DL ( President).
Brian Brick, Jo Coleman, Alan Fell, Jonathan Freedman, Michael Glass, Louise Hager, Alexandra MauriceRobert Prevezer, Marc Samuels, Lisa Steele (Chief Executive), Dr Adrian Tookman, Diane Zitcer.
Medical Advisory Panel
Since Chai’s inception, the Medical Advisory Panel has been pivotal and played a crucial role in ensuring that Chai remains ahead of the curve and up to date with the latest developments in the cancer world. This has shaped Chai’s direction and ensured the organisation is able to meet the evolving needs of its clients.
All Chai volunteers (currently over 100) need to have some experience of cancer, either personally or through a family member or friend. There has to a be a two year period following the end of treatment or a bereavement before they can start with training and on – going supervision is there to support them.
Chai is recognised as a leader in the field of supportive cancer care. Often called on to share best practice not just within the Jewish community but nationally and across the world – with many organisations now emulating Chai’s approach.
Chai started with £250 from both the Shipman and Winegarten families to cover the costs of the first lecture on cancer to a lay audience at Hampstead Garden Suburb synagogue.
Today, the running costs (now £2.9m) are met with thanks to the generosity of the community. Chai does not receive any statutory funding.
It is the effective combination of expertise and personalised care which defines the impact Chai has on all those who turn to them.
The cancer journey changes throughout, often unexpectedly, and Chai matches those twists and turns, always with the ultimate aim to empower its clients and give them the tools and strength to deal with whatever circumstances they face. It is a different life, a life they did not choose, but a new life in which they can find meaning and purpose.