Recently From Me to You held a workshop with Wigwam (part of Yes To Life charity). Here Philip Booth talks about the importance of support to healing for those living with cancer:

Philip Booth, who works at the Yes to Life charity, shares something of his cancer journey and the role Wigwam Cancer Support groups have played in that.

"Getting diagnosed with cancer is darn right scary. Nearly four years on, there are still times of fear and panic, but I’m learning to manage - indeed at times, thrive. As Sophie Sabbage, author of the wonderful book, ’The Cancer Whisperer’, says ‘I still have cancer but cancer does not have me’.

One of the turning points for me was just after the diagnosis, when I asked my oncologist about diet and exercise. I was told that I was pretty fit and to keep doing what I was doing. I just knew that while this advice was well-meaning, it did not fit with what I knew; there is so much we can all do to improve our health and wellbeing.

So I set about learning. To my surprise I came across lots of studies that showed significant benefits. For example a study of 4,623 Swedish men with localised prostate cancer found that those who walked or cycled for at least 20 minutes each day had a 39% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer and a 30% lower risk of dying from any other cause compared to the less active men (i). If that was a tablet I reckon the NHS would be throwing it at us.

Taking an integrative approach

It was some months after learning about exercise that I came across Yes to Life – and discovered they are the UK’s leading charity seeking to improve access for people with cancer to Integrative Medicine - in other words all about using conventional, lifestyle and complimentary approaches to cancer.

This approach made so much sense to me. I’ve been on a learning path ever since that has given me a much greater understanding of my cancer and what is possible.

Kelly Turner in her groundbreaking book ’Radical Remission, Surviving Cancer Against All Odds’ researched over a 1,000 cases where people with serious or terminal cancer had a complete reversal in their disease. Her book highlights the common key factors, but in this blog I want to highlight one of those and what I see as the most important factor for healing; ’embracing social support’. Support comes in many shapes and sizes - physical, emotional, psychological, information, motivational and more. The Happy Box at From Me to You is a perfect example of one aspect of support. Dawn is quoted on the From Me to You website saying: "Cancer has left me feeling isolated and cut off from normal life. A letter arriving can change everything about my day.” In a recent survey by the charity, Penny Brohn, they found a shocking 8 out of 10 of their clients living with cancer feel lonely at least occasionally as a result of their cancer diagnosis (iii). It is not surprising with the huge impact of a cancer diagnosis and the uncertainty it can bring. On top of that we have lockdown and many of us are also having treatments that can dominate lives with side effects that make us feel too grotty to connect with others. Dr Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies in their excellent book, ‘AntiCancer Living’ (ii), describe social support as the “backbone on which all other lifestyle changes will either succeed or fail”. Support is what helps us to make the healing changes we need - and a cancer diagnosis is the time to build on any existing support networks. Peer-led support groups Many of us are fortunate to have family and friends there for us, but support can be invaluable from people facing similar challenges. When I spoke to Yes to Life nearly three years ago, I found out they had plans for developing ‘Wigwam’ cancer support groups that focused on an integrative approach. Within a few weeks, three of us came together in Stroud, Gloucestershire. We’ve not looked back, and ten of us meet each month to share where we are at and explore different approaches together. It is not about giving advice, but has been a wonderful, confidential place of support to explore challenges, opportunities and share information. Why call it Wigwam? The idea came from Richard Mayon-White, who had cancer in 2016. He said “a wigwam provides shelter that is flexible, with an informal style and not fixed in any one place. The way that the poles of a wigwam lean inwards to support each other illustrates how a successful group can offer care and help to its members”. One Wigwam member said they hadn’t realised how lonely they had been on their cancer journey, while another said; “It was such a relief to find an open and supportive group, totally on the same wavelength when it comes to the challenges faced by those of us looking for a more proactive and personalised approach to healing ourselves”. I have now joined the Yes to Life team to help the charity build the Wigwam community and help establish Wigwam support groups online and in real life. If anyone you know is interested in such groups then they can complete the ‘Get Involved’ page on our website and we will be in touch. Free Forums and Webinars In addition to the support groups we also host live expert-led online forums, the videos of which, are then available online. Topics have included sugar, toxins, dance, appetite and an integrative approach. We also have a weekly mindfulness drop in, yoga breathing and more. See more at: https://www.wigwam.org.uk/events-and-sessions Philip Booth – Wigwam Coordinator for Yes to Life Lots of ways to support Wigwam: https://www.wigwam.org.uk/support-us See also Philip’s blog that looks more at the role of support and healing at: https://www.wigwam.org.uk/post/what-can-make-the-biggest-difference-to-our-healing For more information about Yes to Life and the range of services offered take a look at the websites : https://www.wigwam.org.uk/ and https://yestolife.org.uk/ In addition, Wigwam is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/wigwamsupport Finally Philip blogs occasionally about his prostate cancer journey at https://myunexpectedguide.blogspot.com Notes (i) Physical Activity and Survival among Men Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer: http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/24/1/57 (ii) Anti-Cancer Living by Dr Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies. See more at: https://anticancer-living.com/#NaN (iii) Penny Brohn: https://www.pennybrohn.org.uk/

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