A Heart Deeper Than The Ocean; MABS Cancer Foundation President Retires

Jacqui Phillips MBE

The Founder of MABS in Spain, Jacqui Phillips MBE. Credit: Jo Pugh

With the news of the retirement of Jacqui Phillips MBE, Euro Weekly News was privileged to speak exclusively with the founder and outgoing President of MABS (MABS Cancer Support Fundación), on Friday, September 8.

Jacqui Phillips has a deep heart, unending commitment and a mission to help those suffering from cancer. This became clear during an honest and heartfelt conversation with EWN in the heart of Javea, where she lives.

We began by asking Jacqui how and why MABS was founded. Her story will ring true to many people.

Jacqui and her husband Bernard were living in Cansalades Park in Javea. They had previously moved from Surrey in 1987 to enjoy a life in Spain.

In 1998, Jacqui realised something was wrong and visited her doctor, to find out to her horror a short time later that she was suffering from both breast and throat cancer at Grade Four – the worst possible news.

At the time, she had been supporting a friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year. Jacqui underwent a mastectomy and aggressive rounds of treatment including radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

To Jacqui, she said one of the worst moments was waking up and finding all of her hair on her pillow.

Several months after her treatment, Jacqui then began to suffer from the excruciating condition of lymphoedema in her right arm, which remains today as a painful reminder of her cancer.

During this time of her almost fatal illness, Jacqui spoke at length with her loving husband, Bernard, about starting a support group for ladies suffering with breast cancer. Bernard, being fully supportive, started the ball rolling, and together, they obtained the support of the Lions Club, and MABS was formed as a group on June 7, 1999.

It was originally called The Marina Alta Breast Cancer Support Group.

Slowly, more ladies began to join the group, offering help and advice to others. Jacqui and her husband also travelled to The Royal Marsden hospital in London to learn more about cancer and its treatment.

As the years passed, MABS grew in both group and reputation size. The group purchased medical equipment, enabling cancer sufferers to be able to borrow or hire anything that would help during treatment and recovery, from zimmer frames to hospital beds.

Jacqui recalled an extremely special moment in November 2004, when she received a telephone call out of the blue from the British Consul.

He was calling to tell her the news that she had been nominated for an award, and she needed to confirm she would accept it with the British Embassy in Madrid.
“I thought he was joking!” she said, but no, it was true, and Jacqui, accompanied by her husband, son and nephew, proudly accepted her MBE from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen knew all about Jacqui’s work in Spain, and held a short conversation about her work while pinning her MBE to her chest.

Jacqui Phillips with her MBE
Jacqui is rightly proud of her MBE. Credit: Jo Pugh

The first MABS charity shop opened in La Xara around 20 years ago, and there are now shops in L’Alfas del Pi, Oliva, Totana, San Javier and Javea.
Support centres soon opened, and MABS now has five across the Costa Blanca and Costa Calida where they provide assistance and information to people in need. There is also a respite home in Mazarron.

In 2017, after three years of jumping through Spanish hoops, MABS finally became an official foundation.

The MABS Cancer Fundacion Logo. Credit: MABS

The group continued to expand, and in 2014, MABS obtained two rooms at the Fontilles Foundation, which offered respite and palliative care until last year, when the Valencian government repurposed Fontilles.

In 2020, anguish befell Jacqui during the Covid pandemic, as her beloved husband Bernard suddenly became ill. He was taken to hospital in Denia, where he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Bernard was given around a month to live. Refusing treatment, Jacqui took Bernard home, where he devastatingly died just a week later.

It was around this time that Jacqui had been toying with the idea of possibly retiring and handing over the reins to a new president.

However, Jacqui continued with her cause, until another blow hit her.

In November of 2022, she felt something wasn’t quite right and visited her doctor. She was sent for a mammogram, and an ultrascan a week later, where a biopsy was taken. The cancer had returned.

Jacqui asked for another mastectomy, which was carried out in February 2023. The cancer was Grade One – Jacqui, listening to her body, had caught it in time. Jacqui then explained she only found out 14 years after her first diagnosis that she hadn’t been expected to live.

Following a complete recovery, Jacqui now has six monthly checkups, and decided that she definitely would retire as President, but would remain a trustee.

But Jacqui is more than that. She will give and give, that was clear to see.

Her heart lies with MABS, and she is at the end of her phone giving advice and organising help for those in need.

Mabs Charity Shop Javea
The Javea branch of MABS sells furniture and household goods. Credit: Jo Pugh

When asked what her ideal retirement would be, her face lit up as she explained she is going on a Mediterranean Cruise with the U3A shortly, and loves to read books, especially the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley. She also loves the odd jigsaw, plus loves music of classical and modern themes.

MABS works closely with 3C’s Care and Nursing Agency which provides dedicated nursing and palliative care throughout the region, and are desperately seeking suitable premises on the Costa Blanca North where MABS can provide respite and palliative care. The ideal property, she said, would have no pool, three bedrooms and two bathrooms in a peaceful location.

Finally, Jacqui was asked if she had any advice for others.

She said to thoroughly check that health insurance policies cover chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as many do not.
As the interview came to an end, Jacqui was quick to give one final piece of advice, “Look after yourself, and get to know your body”.

MABS, with 400 volunteers, continues its work with new president Bev Thompson, and will continue to care for the hundreds of cancer patients who need help each year.

Jacqui, all at Euro Weekly News salute and thank you for your help to the community and wish you a happy retirement.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories and remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by

Jo Pugh

Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.


    • concha

      11 September 2023 • 00:07

      😖 🙏 Bless her <3 MABS is actually supporting a family member right now. Heart-felt thanks and admiration <3 The world needs more Jacqui 's <3 🙏

    • Lesley Salouma

      11 September 2023 • 18:08

      An absolute angel, the tireless work and dedication that Jacqui has put in, she’ll be impossible to follow. Thank you Jacqui you’re a star ⭐️

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