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Flourish Magazine: The importance of connection and support in cancer care and recovery by Philip Booth

12 Sep 2022

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Flourish Magazine: The importance of connection and support in cancer care and recovery by Philip Booth 



Alongside the print version of Issue 2 of Flourish Magazine, The Connections Issue (available to view digitally here), we are releasing weekly digital content on the Artlift and Yes to Life websites, such as music, creative writing and blog posts.  

Our first digital piece is a blog post by Yes to Life Wigwam Coordinator Philip Booth about support groups and the evidence that they can support cancer recovery, accompanied by drawings by Jo Lawrance.  

Social support has been described by authors, Dr Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies, as the “backbone on which all other lifestyle changes will either succeed or fail.” For those of us living with cancer, it is key to sustaining and improving our lives. What’s more, study after study shows that those of us with strong social support live longer.  

 Author of The Cancer Whisperer, Sophie Sabbage, was a Patron of Yes to Life up until her death last year. She writes about the importance of “reaching out to whomever is willing to support you and creating a sustainable support system to facilitate your journey” and “choosing relationships that truly support… while letting go of the ones that don’t.” 

 Sophie is wonderfully blunt about the need for us to get over being too proud to ask for help. She writes, “a cancer diagnosis confronts you with your vulnerability and there is no getting around that. It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. In fact, if you have been mistaking vulnerability for weakness most of your life, you can now thank cancer for slaying that ludicrous lie.” In her book she goes on to share the importance of helping others to understand how to help and support you, including a list she wrote to all her friends of what was helpful and unhelpful. 

Victoria Fenton, a Functional Medicine Consultant and Health Coach, has looked at how to create connection in times of isolation, particularly when we were all facing lockdowns. Her list of suggestions to improve support, backed by research, included “the magic of connection with pets”, getting out in nature, massaging and hugging oneself, laughter, using technology not just to chat but to share meals or drinks, the power of music to impact our nervous system, sharing our vulnerabilities and exploring how we can find inner connection with ourselves. 

 Similarly Professor of Psychology Barbara Fredrickson, who has spent two decades looking at connections, argues that culturally we underestimate the importance of “fleeting moments of connection”, like saying hi to our neighbour or smiling at our barista. These small daily moments are what she calls “the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health.” Her research has proven that as you increase these micro-moments of connection, you are physically changed for the better.  

So wherever we are, we can try and be open towards others, smile more, share a lighthearted thought or feeling – and stay connected long enough for a response. Such interactions can literally change the course of our day. 

Finding support 

Social support, however it comes, plays a key role in every aspect of lifestyle change, from stress management and sleep to diet and exercise. There are numerous ways you can get support; the challenge can be deciding what will be most useful in supporting your journey.  

For example, not everyone is comfortable with a cancer support group and for some it can be enough that family and/or friends surround them. However, again and again people who have said they didn’t think a support group was for them have now become active participants. For some an exercise, art or mindfulness group might be right. For others, peer-to-peer support might be part of the answer. 

In Stroud our Yes to Life Wigwam Cancer Support Group has been going for over four years and has been a great place for connection, support, learning and sharing about integrative approaches. The Wigwam team at Yes to Life support those who would like to set up their own group in their area or join an existing in person or online group. If you want to give a group a try, you can let us know by completing the Contact Us form on the Yes to Life website. We can then also let you know about our Wigwam Cafes where you can hear more about the groups. 

 Sharing fears, concerns and joys with others, especially those facing similar challenges can impact positively on our health – especially our emotional wellbeing. Groups can offer deep support but also a forum for sharing information and helping to stay motivated. They can also be a place of laughter and hope. One of our members calls it her “anti-cancer team”. Another says it was how he understood the importance of exercise and got motivated enough to do it regularly. 

 Online support 

 The internet can be a wonderful place, but also one of misinformation. It can be overwhelming trying to find a way through. Many of the big cancer charities have good online resources and some have groups or pages where you can connect with others or ask questions.  

 However, there are fewer online sites that have discussions around an integrative approach i.e. combining conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, with lifestyle and complementary therapies that broaden patient choice, increase patient engagement, improve quality of life and extend survival. This is something we explore in our Yes to Life Wigwam support groups. There is huge and ongoing evidence that this integrated approach can bring about the best results. 

Living with cancer can be a challenge with all the misunderstandings and misconceptions, sometimes even from loved ones. The task of making choices about treatment can be huge. Those of us who have embraced online and real life groups have found fellow travellers who sometimes understand the situation as much or better than our friends and family.  

 If you’d like to join a Wigwam Cancer Support Group, head to: here

Find out more about Yes to Life’s services: Yes to Life Services

Other online support 

There are many other possibilities for connection and support. Cancer Care Map have a useful resource at  

Bob Tarbet, who set up the Prostate Cancer UK Support Group, which now has over 4,000 members, shared with Flourish his experiences of setting up Prostate Cancer UK Support Group: 

“Shortly after my diagnosis and my wife losing her job, we felt the need to find others that were in the same situation, so we went on Facebook to find a support group.  Although we joined an international group, we were not completely comfortable, as we’d rather have found a UK one.  So, rather than keep searching, we decided to set up a UK only group ourselves called the Prostate Cancer UK Support Group, with a membership that now stands around 4,000, consisting of husbands, wives, sons, daughters and other family members. The group has become an absolute treasure of information and experience that is helping many.”

“Everyone always says ‘things happen for a reason’. My wife and I are now great believers in that. Four years ago I was facing my darkest hours but now, thanks to the loving support of my wife and others I feel in a much better place. As I have bad mobility problems, I spend most of my time monitoring our online support group. I am very proud to say that it is my focus in life and I feel proud that my wife and I have done something very worthwhile. Had I not been diagnosed or my wife being made redundant, this would never have happened. I would like to think we are leaving a wonderful legacy of support for those that follow.” 

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