This week’s blog has been written by Philip Booth, a Barnwood Trust Community Builder and blogger, who was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2017. He shares his experience attending the UK’s first Holistic Health and Cancer Awareness Festival, Trew Fields…
‘Cancer’ and ‘festival’ don’t seem to naturally go together? Indeed, eyebrows raised when I shared with friends that I was planning to join the weekend. And yet, this is exactly what the world needs. A festival of health that looks to change the way we treat cancer, think about cancer and speak about cancer. A festival about empowering people and sharing knowledge and connection. A festival that celebrates integrative medicine – in other words the very best of all medicines, orthodox, complementary, psycho-spiritual and self-help, for the treatment of illness and the prevention of illness. A festival that is full of hope and fun.
Here’s my film of the weekend
When I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer last September I was uneasy with the language of battling cancer. Yet I was so engulfed in confusion and fear, even terror, and trying to unpick treatment options in those first weeks, that I found myself also adopting that language. ‘I will beat this. I will win. I will conquer it’. The subtext of course, is that we are either cancer’s attackers or its victims. If you survive, you have ‘beaten’ cancer; if you die you have ‘lost your battle’ – however bravely you fought.
I thank Sophie Sabbage for helping me see it differently. In her wonderful, inspiring, life-changing book, ‘The Cancer Whisperer’ with the wonderful subtitle ‘Finding Courage, Direction and the Unlikely Gifts of Cancer’, she wrote about how she had cancer, but cancer did not have her; how cancer brings us an invitation to look within ourselves and decide who we are and how we wish to live. So rather than seeing cancer as the enemy we can see it as a teacher or guide. To fight it, felt like going to war with myself. Cancer is in us – and rather than a war, it is a chance to work at putting things right.
Sophie asks: ‘What if cancer is the body’s last attempt to save its own life? What if its purpose is not to extinguish us but to heal?’
And wow, Trew Fields was all about that. This was the second festival and took place on a farm near Guildford (7/8th July). It was the brainchild of another Sophie – Sophie Trew who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2014, She built her own integrative recovery plan and wanted to use her learning as a ‘force for good’. Well the festival is certainly a force for good. It was so beautifully put together with camping in the next-door field, a number of stalls of clearly carefully selected organisations, a main cancer awareness stage with many talks and discussions with doctors, health and wellbeing practitioners and cancer ‘thrivers’. There was also a whole very varied programme of workshops from yoga, essential oils and chanting to a Wim Hoff ice bath (yes I did get in), breathing and fermentation.
And of course no festival would be complete without music, dance and food. The main music stage had a great line-up but there were also other experiences like the Sunday morning silent disco where we had guided dance via headphones. Best of all was the wonderful vegan food which included Buddha boxes, smoothies, juices, burgers, kefir cocktails, crafted beers, refined sugar-free cakes and the exceptionally good barista coffee from Four Fillies.
But actually the festival was so much more than the amazing talks, food and music – it was about a different conversation, about listening, living as well as possible, about fun, laughter and hope, about connection, sharing stories, learning, prevention, integrative medicine and so much more.
It was about reframing the aggressive mainstream narrative surrounding cancer into how we can nurture ourselves and bring more balance back into our lives. Indeed, I was blown away time and time again over the weekend; the generosity, welcome and warmth of those running the festival and those participating. Somehow people seemed to connect almost instantly; cancer opening doors but wonderfully, no judgements. Indeed, Sophie Trew described the atmosphere of the 2017 festival as ‘like walking into a giant hug’; that’s also a great description of this year’s festival.
Thank you to all who made the festival possible – and so inspired me and many others on our journeys to wellness. I love Sophie Trew’s dream of taking this life-changing festival to other countries – am sure it will happen – and I’ll certainly be putting next year’s festival dates (5th/7th July) in my diary.
Trew Fields are hoping to add to their website many of the talks by doctors and cancer thrivers; sign up for their newsletter on their website here. Hear more about the festival in this podcast on UK Health Radio.
You can follow Philip’s blog here.