This is a guest blog from Philip Booth, the coordinator of Wigwam – part of the Yes to Life cancer support community. Wigwam is a cancer support group with a difference. It is a community of people living with cancer coming together to explore and share information and experiences with the aim of empowering themselves to gain control over their lives. Wigwam is a place for people to meet locally or online. Wigwam is a place of safety and care, which is flexible and supportive, to meet others sharing similar issues and to learn about Integrative Medicine. (For those of you who don’t know what integrative medicine is, it is a form of medical therapy that combines practices and treatments from alternative medicine (such as exercise and nutrition) with conventional medicine (such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy).
Overwhelmed. Terrified. Bewildered. Just some of the emotions I felt following my prostate cancer diagnosis over three years ago. I didn’t know what to do. This was 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; 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. Exercise got lots of mentions – no doubt blog readers here will know of studies like the one in 2007 of 1,490 women with early stage breast cancer. They found that those who exercised, like walking for 30 minutes each day and ate more than five servings of vegetables and fruit per day, had a whopping half the recurrence rate after nine years compared to those who didn’t (i).
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. They provide support, information and financial assistance to those with cancer seeking to pursue approaches that are currently only available as private healthcare.
You may well have come across them recently, as they have just put on two great online events with forty plus global experts; the ‘Your Life and Cancer’ weekends (ii) – and we were delighted to have had Ticking off Breast Cancer as one of the many supporters. It was a wonderful coming together and sharing of evidence-informed healthcare to achieve optimal health and wellbeing.
I have so appreciated that the charity is all about combining the best of conventional, lifestyle and complementary approaches. This made so much sense to me and I’ve been on a learning path ever since that has given me a much greater understanding of my cancer and what is possible. Indeed, the more I have read, the more the UK’s focus almost exclusively on surgery, radiotherapy and chemo seems such huge missed opportunity.
Around the world other countries have embraced the research into cancer that goes beyond our conventional approach. In China, for example, 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.
So where can we talk and learn safely?
There are not many places where it is possible to discuss other options. 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. 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?
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 joined the Yes to Life team to help the charity establish more groups. Our first online Wigwam group has just been meeting and growing. Feedback is very positive and we are planning more. If you are interested you 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 now host live expert-led online forums every other week, the podcasts of which, are then available online. Topics coming up include sugar, toxins, dance, appetite and an integrative approach. We also have a weekly mindfulness drop in and more planned. See more at: https://www.wigwam.org.uk/events-and-sessions
Philip Booth – Wigwam Coordinator for Yes to Life
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.
(i) Greater Survival After Breast Cancer in Physically Active Women With High Vegetable-Fruit Intake Regardless of Obesity: http://ascopubs.org/doi/10.1200/JCO.2006.08.6819
Please note that I, as Ticking Off Breast Cancer, do not accept responsibility for the content of the guest blogs. The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.