Penny Brohn Living Well course

Tish and I had intended to go together to a Living Well course at the Penny Brohn Centre in Bristol. However after much discussion and before booking we decided that we should in fact go separately to get the most from the retreat. Tish chose to take a wonderful friend of hers, Marie, as her companion and went to an earlier retreat.  Thank heavens as she truly felt it made a huge difference to her final months.

Tish urged me to book myself onto the Living Well course and suggested the course starting today.  I can’t help but know she knew that the timing was important. All day at her funeral I think knowing that I was going to be attending the course in a few hours got me through.  I knew they’d understand.  However I think I cried the entire length of the M4 and only managed to stop crying when I hit the outskirts of Bristol.

As soon as I walked into the Centre, I ran into Michael Connors, Director of Services.  I’ve met Michael a number of times before when I’ve been doing things with Living Beyond Diagnosis.  It was at least a minute after he asked me how I was, that I shed a tear again.  Michael was fabulous and reminded me that I was on the Living Well retreat for ME not as an advocate or on behalf of Living Beyond Diagnosis.  I needed to hear that at that point too.  Thank you Michael.

The Living Well course is an introductory course which aims to provide a tool kit of tried and tested techniques that can help you support your physical, emotional and spiritual health.

The Living Well course encourages you to explore the meaning of cancer in your life with people who understand the impact of the journey. Share your experience with others in similar situations, and think about what steps you could take now to help you live well.  During the residential course there is a wonderfully designed programme with group sessions including information, healthy eating, exercise, understanding the impact of cancer on emotions and relationships and sharing practical tips.

The facilitators use different methods of relaxation, meditation, mindfulness and imagery during the stay and also explain more about the science and research behind the approach.

The Centre is incredibly comfortable with rooms equivalent to any great hotel.  The days are emotional and challenging so despite our early bedtimes, we slept extraordinarily well.

I shared the experience with 10 others.  Both men and women.  Some with partners  and others with friends as companions.  There is also good representation of age and different cancer types and stages of diagnosis.

I came away with a mind full of plans for a future as well as a restocking of my ‘toolbelt for life’ with new and resharpened tools.  I felt lighter than I have for quite some time.  More positive.  Perhaps able to work through some anxieties and concerns.  In addition to this, I was also delighted to have made some wonderful new friends and to have received and given such heartfelt farewell hugs.

The world’s a little dimmer without your shining light

You’ve heard me talk before about my lovely friend, Tish.  Today I heard the news that she passed away yesterday morning.  My world just got a little bit darker.

Tish came into my life a few years ago when we both attended a charity ball in Brighton raising funds to build a new Macmillan Support Centre (Splash of Green).  The ball was (and has been annually since) organised by a mutual friend, Della.  Della had put Tish and I on the same table along with Lindsay and Kerry.  We had a blast.  We laughed and giggled the evening away and became great friends.

I wrote about our little trip to Brighton.  We had a hoot.   What I didn’t tell you.  I didn’t know how.  Was that Kerry passed away last November.  We didn’t get the chance to celebrate her 40th birthday with her.  I’m sure Kerry loved the planning and plotting on our trip to Brighton though.  Tish and I visited my bench in Berkeley Square and raised a glass to Kerry to wish her a happy birthday.

My bench in Berkeley Square has featured a great deal with Tish and I over the past year or so.  We’ve visited it together and separately.  I’ve loved that I get a text from Tish saying she’s there.  She needed space and somewhere to think and has headed to my bench.  I’ve loved that she found sanctity on my bench too.  I’ve loved that she’s celebrated there with me also.

I can’t believe that a year and a few days after Kerry’s passing, I’m here writing this now about Tish’s passing.

Tish has celebrated the great things with me and also the not so great things.  We’ve met up before or after medical appointments.  Texted, called or sent a card to say that we’re thinking of each other at a time of scanxiety or treatment.  I think we ‘got’ each other.  Despite being in each other’s lives for such a relatively short time, she was truly a great friend.

In recent months when she’s not been so well, I’ve spent time with her in hospital receiving chemo or visited her when she’s been staying ‘overnight’.  We’ve met up in town when she’s having appointments.  We’ve put the world to right face to face.  Lately because of fluid on her lungs, we’ve ‘talked’ more by text.  Long lengthy texts that I’m sure our mobile providers love the cost of.  We’ve exchanged cards and postcards.  We’ve encouraged, supported, motivated and loved.

Tish showed me many things in our short friendship.  Her generosity of spirit.  Her incredibly positive attitude.  Her endless love.  Her ability to plan for a future.  To take life and give it a jolly good shakeup.

For example, last year when she was told her ovarian cancer had recurred.  She did what any crazy fun loving, life living person would do… booked a trip to Australia!  One of Tish’s sisters lives in Australia and had got married in Mexico.  Tish had been to the wedding and had met a man there, Dave.  He lived in Perth.  Tish said it was crazy timing and crazy to think that anyone should come into her life now.  Her month in Australia was made all the better by a truly caring and thoughtful man.  He visited a few months ago and was planning to come over here for Christmas.  I’m so terribly grateful that Tish had this love in her life again.  Despite his living so far away, he was always in touch with her and obviously cared deeply for her.

Tish has always  believed that she can help her health by maintaining a positive energy, meditating, eating well and with nutrition to help fight cancer and keep her cancer-free.  Dave supported her in this and she attended many meditation classes and events in Perth.  She came back from Australia really stunning the medics and proving once again that she can beat this dreadful disease.

Life sort of took over recently with trying to sort out finances and thinking about selling her flat.  We talked about some of the stresses in her life that were now pushing ‘Tish’ time out and the importance of putting it all back together again.  Tish booked into the Penny Brohn Cancer Centre a few months ago.  I talked about my going at the same time but decided that we both needed to talk about things separately.  She took her great friend Maxine.  Tish came back refreshed and ready to renew her positive spirit once more.  Tish urged me to book myself into Penny Brohn.  I’m now supremely grateful that she did and off there very soon.

I can’t imagine the pain and loss that is being experienced by her daughter, her parents, her siblings and Dave.  No parent should lose a child, at any age.  No young girl should have to deal with the loss of her parent.

Just one final word.

Tish I’m incredibly grateful and thankful for you to have been a part of my life.  You’ve taught me much more than you could every know.  I shall miss you dreadfully and right now don’t know who’s going to put my world right.  Who will I text with tidbits of crazy news?  Thank you for your support, love, laughter and encouragement.

Launch of Penny Brohn’s National ‘Living Well’ courses

A few months ago I was invited to write a small piece to appear in the Sunday Telegraph. The focus was to be nutritional information following a cancer diagnosis.  A hot topic and one that can be confusing.

Specific nutritional advice should, of course, be sought from your medical teams and indeed is tailored to each person and their specific cancer diagnosis.  For example advice given to a bowel cancer survivor would be different to that given to a lymphoma survivor, at least in part.  In addition, some treatments and particularly some chemotherapy drugs are extremely sensitive to some foods and incorrect advice could be very damaging.

My piece therefore was written on the basis of an overview and enabled me to signpost to some smaller specialist charities and also to organisations that offer nutritional workshops for cancer survivors.  Often these smaller organisations don’t have large media or marketing budgets and rely on word of mouth referrals or editorial similar to that which I was asked to write.  The submitted piece with links is below:


Submitted to the Telegraph:

As a cancer patient diagnosed with a rare soft tissue sarcoma, Phyllodes, in 2009, I am always seeking information and guidance with regard to lifestyle, health and wellbeing. There is often information that appears to contradictory or conflicting in the media and also an overwhelming amount of ‘advice’ from well meaning friends, colleagues and acquaintances. What I have learnt with regard to balancing and increasing my intake of fruit and vegetables is actually quite simple.

· The well known guidance of ‘5 a day’ is a good place to start.
· Divide your plate into imaginary slices so that 50% of the meal is fruit and vegetables.
· Balance the colour of fruit and vegetables you eat. If, for nothing else, it looks more attractive to eat and means you get less ‘bored’ with the healthier choice.
· Experiment and try new fruits and vegetables. Even the ‘oddest’ looking vegetable can taste scrummy and be good for you!
· Snack on fruit (strategically placed fruit bowls help with this).
· When chopping up vegetables for dinner, julienne an extra carrot, celery, pepper or similar. Pop them into a small foodbag. You can then take this out with you or have in the fridge ready for those ‘picking’ moments.

In my role as moderator for a Phyllodes Support Group and also my work with Living Beyond Diagnosis, I am often asked for advice regarding healthy eating or lifestyle choices. I know from conversation with others diagnosed with different cancers and at different stages of treatment or wellness, that some fruits and vegetables can have different effects on the person and therefore professional advice should be sought together with a sensible approach. I am cautious about giving any specific nutrition advice as I’m not qualified to do so but I signpost them to specific charities and organizations specializing in their cancer type and urge them to speak with their oncology consultant and/or cancer care specialist.

There are some fantastic charities and organisations offering dietary information online, nutrition workshops and even cookery classes. Why not make the discovery and incorporation of new fruits and vegetables fun and easy?

NHS Choices has a number of links to healthier eating. They also have a link to 5 a day on a budget.

The Teenage Cancer Trust  make the point ‘Young people with cancer often face rare and difficult to treat disease that requires aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Being as fit as they can and eating well is critical to helping them fight both the disease and the debilitating treatment. This can be particularly challenging with side effects like severe mouth ulcers, nausea and changes to taste and appetite. It is vital that health services focus on nutrition during treatment and research foods that can add value in a young persons fight against cancer’.  Simon Davies, CEO, Teenage Cancer Trust

The Haven, a national breast cancer charity, provides centres which offer free emotional support and healthy lifestyle advice to anyone before, during or after, breast cancer treatment. Their professional team include experts in nutrition, counselling, exercise and mindfulness to help anyone with and beyond breast cancer. Their research has proven the benefits of its in-depth programme.

The charity provides a healthy eating guide as well as DVDs and CDs to help people who can’t get to one of their centres.

Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres  offer free comprehensive support for anyone affected by cancer. In addition to the many support groups, emotional and psychological support, benefits advice and practical support, they also run Nutrition Workshops.

The sessions are aimed to promote a healthy, balanced and varied diet and comprise in an informal setting:

  • The importance of good nutrition to overall well-being
  • An overview of what is a healthy diet
  • The role of antioxidants, phytochemicals and essential fatty acids in the prevention and protection from cancer
  • Making the most of the diet in simple and easy to achieve ways

Many people who come to the workshops may have read books on nutrition or sourced information from the internet and the sessions can help to clarify what people have discovered, plus they are an opportunity to explore and share.

Beating Bowel Cancer  have produced a booklet entitled Living With Bowel Cancer: Eating Well which can be downloaded. The booklet outlines dietary advice specifically for bowel cancer patients following treatment or surgery.

Advice is also available via their specialist nurse helpline 08450 719301.

Penny Brohn Cancer Centre provides a unique combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support designed to help anyone affected by cancer at any stage of their illness. Information and advice on healthy eating is one of the many services we offer to support people to live well with the impact of cancer.

Our range of services, which are available to cancer patients and their supporters, include one to one sessions with a qualified Nutritional Therapist, residential courses and a choice of one day courses covering; healthy cooking options and demonstrations, menu planning, how to combine and cook foods and the theory and science behind our guidelines.

Penny Brohn have also produced a guide to maintain a healthy, balanced diet whilst living with cancer “The Bristol Approach to Healthy Eating

Further information can be found at

Anna Wallace
Founder of Living Beyond Diagnosis


During my research and conversations with Penny Brohn Cancer Care for the Telegraph piece, I was told about a very exciting development in their programmes.  I was aware of the residential courses in Bristol from friends who have benefitted hugely from attending.  The new news is that they were launching their ‘Living Well’ programme nationally later this year.  It’s been hard not to tell you all before now, such wonderful news.

Tonight, I was honoured to have been invited to attend the launch at a reception hosted by The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP at the Houses of Parliament and hear in full about the exciting project.


What does Penny Brohn Cancer Care do?

Penny Brohn Cancer Care supports people living with the impact of cancer through our unique combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support.  This is designed to support the individual and work alongside their medical treatment.

We provide our services free of charge, thanks entirely to the charitable donationsl and voluntary contributions which fund our work.

Our services are open to everybody over the age of 18 with a cancer diagnosis and their supporters.

For information and support contact our Helpline on 0845 1232310 or email or visit

What is ‘Living Well’?

Led by experienced, trained facilitators, Penny Brohn Cancer Care’s Living Well course provides people with a tool kit of techniques that can help support physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Information is provided on healthy eating, exercise and understanding the impact of cancer on emotions and relationships.  In addition participants experience different methods of stress management.

People are encouraged to share their experiences with others in similar situations, and think about what future steps they could take to “live well”.

The Living Well course is part of a wider pathway of care at Penny Brohn Cancer Care.  This approach includes ongoing support and other courses are available.

How is ‘Living Well’ delivered?

We have a choice of delivery models:

  1. Partnership with NHS cancer services
  2. Partnership with charitable and independent organisations
  3. Delivery as an independent course

Living Well can be delivered in both residential and non-residential formats and can be tailored to the needs of individual client groups.


Over the past years Penny Brohn have been refining the programme to ensure the content is current, required and flexible to the needs of those attending.

Penny Brohn have created the Living Well programme taking a holistic view of treating the whole person.  Supporting people living with the impact of cancer through a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support.  They have conducted extensive (and continued) research and evaluations of attendees and supporters from attendance to date to see assess the impact and value of each aspect of the course.  This research and evaluations allow them to continue to support the individuals after attending the courses by keeping the dialogue open and a way to come back for further support or attend courses.

I have been truly encouraged by their approach that the impact of cancer can affect people at different times and in different ways.  I’m also encouraged that this is not only on the ‘heresay’ of a cancer patient but on substantiated research.  We hear a great deal about ‘survivorship’ but often this isn’t backed up with real hard evidence and research.  I’m concerned that when more budget cuts are made within NHS healthcare that cuts will be made in areas without substantiated research underpinning it.  Well done Penny Brohn and the University of Westminster for this continued research and evaluation of need.

I was also excited to hear that as a charity they wanted to share their expertise and work collaboratively with other charities to host Living Well courses around the UK.  Instead of setting up new Penny Brohn Cancer Care centres themselves, costing millions and then servicing people local to their new Centres, they acknowledged that by working with other organisations they can not only reach more people but can also educate and inform of the need for survivorship support of this kind.

In attendance tonight were a large number of representatives from other charities who, I’m pleased to say, seemed agreeable to working WITH Penny Brohn in the national launch of Living Well.

Already organised are a number of regional non-residential courses:

26-28 Nov 2012    National Star College     Cheltenham
3-5 Dec 2012        Willow Lodge      Sheffield
21-23 Jan 2013    The Octagon     Hull
21&28 Jan 2013    Norman Power Centre     Birmingham
4 Feb -18 Mar 2013   Cancerwise    Chichester
5-7 Feb 2013        Penny Brohn Cancer Care   Bristol
18-20 Feb 2013    Great Oaks Hospice    Forest of Dean
19-21 Feb 2013    The Octagon     Hull

Perhaps you know someone who might benefit from attending one of these non-residential courses or indeed a course in Bristol at their HQ.

Perhaps you know an organisation/charity that could co-host a course.

Perhaps you could fundraise for them or propose a corporate donation to your employer.  They run these courses free of charge with voluntary donations.

A link to the BBC news about the launch and services – click here