GRIM, institutional and dreary.

Words used by breast cancer fighter Victoria Plumridge as she recalled going for her radiotherapy treatment at Essex County Hospital in Colchester.

Those were the days before the £24million radiotherapy centre was built at Colchester General Hospital.

As Victoria, of Coggeshall, later wandered around the state-of-the-art surroundings, she admitted: "It was a polar difference, it was bright, light.

"I thought 'I am gutted I didn't have my treatment in this environment."

And that memory now resonates with Victoria, 46, as she urges the community to get behind what will be the missing piece in the cancer care jigsaw at the hospital site.

This time £3.25million needs to be raised for a cancer centre to compliment the radiotherapy centre.

A fundraising campaign, backed by the Gazette, has been running for two years and its aim is allow all cancer services - including clinical treatment and support services - to be brought together in one location.

Victoria knows how important care in the right surroundings is and five years on from her diagnosis, the mum-of-three is an active supporter of cancer patients getting all the help they need.

Her story looks to have a happy ending but it was a far cry from what potentially lay ahead of Victoria as she came to terms with her diagnosis and treatment back in 2012.

"I was studying for an Open University degree, I was in the middle of my penultimate module," she said.

Not completing the degree, which specialised in psychology and sociology, would have meant Victoria had to retake the entire module.

She took a few months' break then her final module before graduating with a first.

"One of my biggest achievements of my life was getting my degree. I finished that on my hands and knees and going through chemo. I was determined I was going to finish it.

"It was a hugely emotional event.

"It was particularly hard fought. I decided to make it a bit of a family trip and chose to graduate in Edinburgh."

Her graduation in October 2014 came after her treatment but certainly not after her cancer journey ended.

It's one Victoria's still on but she is looking towards her check-up this winter to hopefully spell the end of it.

"Usually the five year mark is quite a big milestone because statistically your chances of dying from your cancer drop massively - a secondary spread would be more likely within two years of the first diagnosis.

"I am personally viewing that five years as a cause for celebration," Victoria added.

Victoria's treatment from 2012 involved six rounds of chemotherapy to reduce the lump in her breast, then a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.

During the course of her treatment it turned out Victoria, who is married to Simon, 52, carried the BRCA1 gene which made her more prone to breast cancer.

Victoria said: "I found the breast lump myself and it was surprisingly large which was strange. One day it wasn't there and the next day it seemed to be."

Biopsies confirmed the cancer was aggressive via private treatment at the Oaks Hospital in Colchester.

It administered her chemotherapy at home but didn't have digital mammography so Victoria then went to Colchester's NHS hospital trust for her radiotherapy.

That started two weeks before Christmas 2012 at the county hospital in Lexden Road which will eventually shut with services mainly transferred to Colchester General Hospital.

"It was very institutional and of its time," said Victoria.

"The clinical staff and nursing care was exemplary but the environment was awful and the facilities were horrendous.

"It was quite stressful - you have an appointment time and you often had to sit queuing for the car park."

Victoria toured the new radiotherapy centre, opened in 2014 after a fundraising campaign, thanks to the efforts of her husband.

He'd helped with the campaign by running a half marathon and raising several thousand pounds.

Describing the centre, Victoria said: "It has a very holistic feel about it.

"From a cancer centre point of view it feels only natural and right that the chemotherapy should have that benefit as well.

"I cannot imagine that moving into a purpose built, new environment will have a negative effect on patient experience.

"It can only have a positive effect at a time when they feel very frail and vulnerable."

Having the two centres located close to one another will also be another benefit, hopes Victoria.

Cancer patients needing chemotherapy or haematology are at present treated in the demountable unit on the other side of the hospital, quarter of a mile away.

She added: "And if Colchester has a purpose built new environment then perhaps the added benefit is it could become a centre of excellence and attract more staff."

Today Victoria, who is mum to Alice, 17, Max, 16, and Evie, 12, is part of Colchester Hospital's cancer user group and breast cancer support group.

These are her ways of giving something back and ensuring the radiotherapy's high standards are mirrored at the new cancer centre.

The first group aims to make cancer services and the patient experience the best they can and the second is to provide peer support to patients.

Meanwhile the prospect of the cancer is never far from Victoria's mind - or that of her family.

Having a variant BRCA gene greatly increases a woman's chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This was the reason actress Angelina Jolie had preventative breast cancer surgery, followed by ovarian cancer surgery.

Victoria had further 'preventative' surgery in early May 2013 - to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce her increased risk of ovarian cancer. But she said she does not want to go down the route of more breast surgery for now.

She said: "I fought hard to keep my breasts and I still feel I am quite young."

Her daughter Alice will be tested to establish whether she carries the gene as she turns 18 this year.

And Victoria's dad, who was found to carry it, also undergoes screening for prostate cancer.

Of course the family hope they will never need cancer treatment but with the prospect of it being in a state-of-the-art centre, they can be rest assured the surroundings will not be grim, institutional and dreary.

  • MORE than £1 million has already been raised for the cancer centre but very recently a Good Samaritan has offered to donate £1 million towards it - as long as the rest of the money - £1.25 million - is reached by next February.

Under the revised drawings, space near Gainsborough wing at Colchester General Hospital will be used to create the cancer centre for support services and alternative treatments.

The new chemotherapy and haematology department will be built on top of the radiotherapy centre.

It will feature 37 treatment suits which will be designed to offer more privacy to each patient.

For more information on how you can support the campaign, visit

Visit the Gazette's dedicated Cancer Centre Campaign page at

Are you fundraising for the cancer centre campaign? Tell us your story by calling 01206 508414 or email