Our new patron relishes the role

Martin Cooper, former head of cancer services in Exeter, is settling into his new role as the patron of FORCE.

Mr Cooper retired as Medical Director at the Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust in March.

He becomes only the third patron of the Exeter cancer charity after former diplomat Sir Anthony Parsons and FORCE co-founder Chris Rowland, who died last year.

“Chris and I worked closely in patient care. He was an incredibly innovative individual. He got the charity off the ground and it is amazing to see what it has grown into. FORCE is a remarkable asset to the community, which in turn supports it so well. I am very happy to be involved,” said Mr Cooper.

His wealth of experience and expertise in cancer care make the retired consultant surgeon uniquely placed to help FORCE in its mission to support anyone locally affected by the disease.

Our Chief Executive Meriel Fishwick said: “Throughout his career in Exeter, Martin has been a great advocate of the work of FORCE and has really understood the need to offer high quality support to cancer patients and their families. Not only will Martin be a great ambassador, he will also be an excellent advisor. Everyone at FORCE was delighted when he accepted the role.”

Mr Cooper is a former Medical Director of the Peninsula Cancer Network and Clinical Director of Cancer Services in Exeter.

When he came to the RD&E in 1988 after working in London, Bristol, Plymouth and Chicago, there were significant gaps in cancer diagnosis and treatment in the city.

Mr Cooper set up a breast service, as there was no provision in Exeter. This included the delivery of a screening programme. At that time, the nearest mammogram machine was in Torquay.
The workload has grown over the last 20 years and the unit now treats over 500 new cancer patients every year, managed by four consultants with a parallel plastic surgical service.

“Exeter is now a major deliverer of cancer services and FORCE is an essential part of that. It’s not an add-on, it’s a superb, integrated part of the service and if we didn’t have it we’d sure as hell miss it,” he said.

Mr Cooper’s pioneering work was reinforced by his wife Joan. She became the first Cancer Nurse Specialist at the RD&E and is now a trustee at FORCE where she also volunteers in the oncology support team at our Support and Information Centre in the grounds of the hospital.

The Centre celebrated its 10th anniversary last autumn and Mr Cooper, who has always championed an holistic approach to cancer care, had a hand in getting it built.

“I saw that there was a huge need for it and I got the Trust to agree to make the land available. There are only a few places like it in the country and this was FORCE making a major commitment to supporting the people of Exeter and the area. The Trust needed to make a contribution,” he said.

“The Centre is a quiet, restful place where people can find caring, compassionate support away from the jammed and busy environment of an acute hospital. The number of people who walk through its doors is a reflection of how vital FORCE is.

“Its services are all very accessible, especially with the introduction of an outreach programme. Increasing numbers of people are surviving cancer and living well beyond it. FORCE is vital in meeting a growing need to support those patients and their families.”

A patron is generally someone who simply lends their name to an organisation to enhance its credibility but Mr Cooper is determined to be more than that for FORCE.

“I want to be useful and do whatever I can to help. I don’t want to be just a name on a piece of paper,” he said.

Our picture shows Mr Cooper (third right) cutting the ribbon when our Support and Information Centre was opened in 2004.