Over the past few months, surgeons, oncologists, nurses and radiographers have been taking excellent care of my body, trying to coax it away from its cancerous state. But we are so much more than our physical selves; cancer not only eats away at our body parts, organs and bones but can also damage our minds, spirits and souls.
Since my chemo ended a few weeks ago – and even during my treatment – I have been told numerous times ‘You look well!’ Maybe I do, and it is always heart-warming to receive a compliment, but what I look like tells only part of the story. Many times when I was ‘looking well’, I was frequently feeling physically unwell – to varying degrees – and my emotions and thoughts were in a very dark place.
Recently – and with beautiful serendipity – I heard about the charity Penny Brohn Cancer Care (formerly the Bristol Cancer Help Centre) which has been providing holistic, integrative care and guidance for people with cancer for over 30 years. A browse of their website, and I was immediately drawn to their ‘whole person approach’; a chat with them on the phone, and I knew this was a place I needed to go to begin sorting out the mess in my mind.
Partners, carers or supporters are welcome at Penny Brohn too, as the charity recognises that they are also affected by the cancer experience. So my husband and I booked their two-day course entitled ‘Living Well with the Impact of Cancer’, held at the charity’s headquarters, a Georgian house in a village just outside Bristol. The charity makes no charge for their courses, which is wonderful given the financial hardship that cancer brings to many. Donations are, of course, welcome from those who feel they are able to give.
From the moment we walked through the doors, the peaceful ambience and beautiful surroundings helped us start to relax. Pale wood floors, fresh flowers, a wide sweeping staircase… one could easily mistake it for a smart hotel. The welcoming staff, the delicious organic food, landscaped gardens and comfortable en-suite rooms all contributed to the restorative atmosphere.
Over the two days of the course we were introduced to the charity’s ‘whole person approach’. Workshops and discussion groups focused on the body, mind, spirit and emotions, to enable you feel the best and healthiest you can, whatever the stage of your cancer. The staff guiding and leading the sessions were warm, knowledgeable and inclusive. From nutrition to mindfulness, from gentle stretching exercises to spirituality, from self image to relationships, from meditation to mortality, the subjects covered were diverse and thought-provoking; the discussions were frank, honest and often raw, but ultimately empowering; there were tears, but fewer than you might imagine, and plenty of laughter.
Our course group consisted of twelve people, brought together in this supportive, accepting environment; twelve people from random backgrounds, at varying stages of cancer, some with a faith, a religion, a spiritual path and others with none; some had turned their back on conventional treatments, others were in the midst of chemo; some were several years clear of the disease, others had been diagnosed as terminal. All of us had been drawn to Penny Brohn Cancer Care for our own reasons, in search of something extra to help us through.
It is hard to convey the power and impact those few days had on me. It was not so much a ‘getting away from it all’ break as a ‘going towards it all’ one. I found it life changing, life enhancing, life affirming. When I left, my mind was at peace for the first time in months and my body, battered from treatment and scrunched and hunched from so much time in bed and on the sofa, had unfurled and felt refreshed.
If you would like to find out more about Penny Brohn Cancer Care, please pop along to their website here.
The view from my room, showing some of the beautiful gardens…