by Philip Booth
(also published in Health Triangle Magazine Issue 83).
Overwhelmed. Terrified. Bewildered. Just some of the emotions I felt following my prostate cancer diagnosis three years ago. My situation was then compounded by a number of different treatment options. What was the best way forward?
Just after the diagnosis, 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 knew, that while this advice was well-meaning, it did not fit with what I knew about health and wellbeing; there is so much we can all do to improve our health and wellbeing.
I was fortunate to have a friend who had been diagnosed with a similar cancer a couple of years earlier; this was enormously supportive. I also came across the charity ‘Yes to Life’ that wants to see integrative cancer care readily available, so that people have the best chance of reclaiming their health. This is all about combining the best of conventional, lifestyle and complementary approaches.
To my astonishment I came across studies, such as one showing that those with localised prostate cancer who walked or cycled for at least 20 minutes each day, had a 39% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer.(1) If this was a tablet, the health service would be throwing it at us, yet no one mentioned it to me. In China if you aren’t taking herbs as part of your cancer treatment then that is seen as negligent, while in parts of Europe, mistletoe injections and hyperthermia are recognised by many medical doctors.
In the UK, the focus seems to be surgery, radiotherapy and chemo. It seems there are not many places where it is possible to discuss other options. Talking to Yes to Life, I found out they had plans for developing cancer support groups that focused on an integrative approach. Within a few weeks, three of us came together. 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, non-judgmental space of support.
Well 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”.
Eighteen months on and I have joined Yes to Life to help the charity establish more groups. Our first online Wigwam group has just met and is growing. Feedback is very positive and we are planning more.
In addition to the support groups we also host live expert-led online forums every other week, the podcasts of which are then available online. We are planning weekly groups for mindfulness and exercise.
Philip has a background in Social Work, managing care services, local politics as a councillor and for the last eight years has worked for a charity helping residents in Gloucestershire build more welcoming communities. His own journey with prostate cancer has led to a passion for helping people come together to support each other in more proactive, personalised approaches to health and wellbeing.
Website: www.wigwam.org.uk (for more information about Wigwam and how to join) Facebook: wigwamsupport Listen to Philip and others here: bit.ly/30NfhuW
(1). Physical Activity and Survival among Men Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer: http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/24/1/57