Saturday, 14 July 2018

Breast cancer and Integrative Medicine in the UK: Top 6 complementary therapies available on the NHS - by Sara Davenport

This week’s blog post has been written by Sara Davenport, founder of Breast Cancer Haven and holistic health blogger of ReBoot Health. Sara shares 6 top complementary therapies available on the NHS for people with breast cancer…

Twenty years ago, I set up what is now one of the UK’s leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. Today it has six centres across the country - in London, Leeds, Hereford, Hampshire, Solihull and Worcester. It offers support - counselling, nutrition, information and complementary therapies - to anyone affected by breast cancer, free of charge.

The Haven epitomises the successful working of integrative medicine - a partnership of complementary therapies and conventional approaches working hand in hand. In its early days, whilst hospital treatment focused on surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, The Haven had one of the widest ranges of therapies on offer under one roof anywhere in the world. Today, things have moved on and across the UK hospital oncology units and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) are working together to benefit patients with all types of cancer.

In the topsy-turvey frightening months that follow a breast cancer diagnosis, complementary therapies have been shown, in research studies and in practise, time and time again, to make a quantifiable difference to the side effects of conventional medical treatment and to the quality of life of the people who used them alongside those treatments. The Haven Programme has repeatedly been described as ‘life-changing’ by the tens of thousands of people who have benefited from the charity’s work. Without it, people felt their recovery would have been infinitely harder.

I am a fervent believer in the power of combining both approaches following any diagnosis of breast cancer. The hospitals and oncologists have a range of medical approaches on offer - drugs, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy to address the cancer - but there is a world of gentler, kinder yet still effective options that can also play a part in your healing and make a substantial difference to your recovery.

Complementary therapy can support you physically, mentally and emotionally during what is often a difficult journey. The importance of feeling you are playing a part in your own recovery cannot be understated, replacing the debilitating feeling of powerlessness that is often reported when you hand over all control to the hospital.

Many breast cancer units now offer some or all of the following therapies as part of their protocol:


Releasing emotional stress is an important part of your healing and one that people often under-rate. You may be offered a series of sessions with your hospitals counsellor or psychotherapist and I would encourage you to take up the offer. I have so often heard people say that they don’t feel ‘counselling’ is for them, but the breast cancer path can often be a lonely one.

Your family and those closest to you are often in shock themselves, perhaps feeling powerless about what to do and what to say to best support you. They want you to be ‘OK’ as you go through treatment, when ‘OK’ is the last thing in the world you may be feeling. You may as a result, not feel you can show your true feelings, that you have to pretend to be fine to re-assure them, when inside the fear and the grief are often overwhelming and you are anything but.

Having someone to talk to who understands what you are going through and with whom you can safely and fully express your feelings can be life-changing - and, vitally, help you to feel less alone. Breast cancer brings many difficulties with it and can strike cruelly and directly at the heart of your femininity - the removal of a breast, the resulting scarring, the loss of your hair and the effects of the drugs on your libido are hard to deal with whatever the corcu,stances, but even harder alone.


Make cleaning up your diet a priority as you go through treatment. Many hospitals offer consultations where a trained nutritionist will go through your eating habits with you, recommending changes alongside a programme of specific supplements to take that will help your body to stay strong and boost your immune system to work more effectively.


The latest cutting-edge cancer treatment – works with the immune system to boost its abilities to destroy your cancer cells. Cutting out certain foods, and replacing them with others has also been shown to minimise the unwelcome side effects of many of the prescribed drugs, reducing hot flushes, muscle and bone aches and rashes.


Has been shown to help breast cancer patients with the side effects of chemo, radio, surgery, hormonal drug treatments, reducing hot flushes, night sweats rashes and the intensity of muscle and bone aches.  It helps with tiredness, vomiting and feelings of nausea. You may be offered one to one acupuncture sessions, or ear acupuncture in a group.


Reflexology is based on the idea that stimulating specific points on your feet can improve the functioning of corresponding organs, glands, and other body parts. A recent study has found that reflexology helped ease some side effects from chemotherapy and hormonal therapy treatments in women being treated for metastatic breast cancer. In particular it eased shortness of breath which is sometimes a side effect of the treatment for breast cancer.


Aromatherapy massage, using specially chosen essential oils, combines the healing power of touch with specially chosen scented essential oils that have been shown to trigger deep emotional release, and change and boost your moods. If you are currently having chemotherapy, however, you may become highly sensitive to scents and smells so if possible delay any appointments until after your treatment has finished.

Hospitals also offer sessions with specialist oncology massage therapists, who are highly experienced and understand exactly what is needed after surgery and cancer treatment. If you have had lymph nodes removed there is a risk of developing lymphoedema, so look for a therapist who understands the lymphatic system and knows how to drain excess fluid away from the affected arm and breast area. 

You can follow Sara's fantastic blog, ReBoot Health, here.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Happiness at Bhaktivedanta Manor - by Sue De Cesare, Director at Yes to Life

This week’s blog has been written by the Director at Yes to Life, Sue De Cesare. She shares her story of our trip to the beautiful Bhaktivedanta Manor on 16th June…

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is that I get to meet some incredible people. Saturday 16th June was just one of those days. A retreat day at the Bhaktivedanta Manor near Watford for people with cancer. Edana and I were fortunate enough to have visited the beautiful, peaceful centre earlier in the year and met with JD one of the monks who lives there. Despite having been treated for cancer and still in hospital after surgery, JD pulled together an event with the support of Radhi and the result was a most wonderful and unforgettable day. Edana and I left London early by car and the sun was already out – we were both excited about offering our beneficiaries a chance to join us at the centre. People arrived at a warm reception from Radhi and her beautiful daughter along with Radha a monk who had stepped in to cover JD. 

The day kicked off with Radhi introducing herself – sharing her own journey with cancer and the lifestyle changes she made as a result. Now almost qualified as a yoga teacher, she runs yoga classes at the centre and is part of their wonderful family. Radha introduced himself and within minutes had the room in hysterics. His wit and humour played a big role in our enjoyment of the day. 
Not everyone in the room knew each other so we kicked off the morning with a game of Human Bingo. A sheet with several interesting human characteristics, personalities and life facts were given to each of us with the challenge to go around the room to find someone who fitted each one of them. A great ice-breaker. This was followed by a tour of the centre where we leant about the Hare Krishna movement, its founder and George Harrison’s involvement with the centre. We also got to visit the manor’s dairy farm and visitor centre where they have reintroduced a radical approach to farming. Called Goshala it shelters cows, oxen and one mature bull. Milk is produced in a sustainable and humane way and they are looked after with love for their whole lives. Some of our visitors even got to have a go at milking while the rest of us got to meet the cows, oxen and bull close.  
The group were split into two. A relaxing and calm yoga class was given by Radhi and Jaydev, who used to be a drummer in the 1970’s band the Rubettes, ran a Drumfulness class. Incredibly joyful having the chance to do both – calm yoga and then energetic drumming with a mindfulness perspective. Amazing. 
Then lunch - oh lunch - a delicious epicurean delight served by members of the team who worked at the Manor. After lunch we moved into the theatre and a talk by Emily.
It’s not always the easiest time to engage people after they have been fed and rested but she asked us all to think about what we understood about resilience. She shared her story of her cancer diagnosis and how it affected her. Such a positive and empathetic young woman who has taken her cancer diagnosis by the horns, turned her life around and is now an NLP Life Coach and Health Psychologist.  
After sitting rather comfortably in the theatre, Radha came back in full of hilarious anecdotes followed by lots of laughter. Split into groups of 5, we were then sent on our way – yes it was time for the Treasure Hunt. Each team had a leader and was given an envelope with a clue and instructions and off we all set. My group solved the first clue and found one of the volunteers – our challenge (should we have chosen to accept it – ok ok Mission Impossible just sprang to mind) was to make a 30 second film about our experience so far. Blimey – nothing easy about that, but after several bouts of hysterics we created a strange version of George Harrison’s song ‘Something in the way she moves’ interspersed with moo-ing in place of moving and drumming – a real challenge - we did our best. Each group had to solve 5 riddles and undertake 5 challenges whilst taking selfies of the group and the volunteer at each stage – again a massive amount of thought and preparation by Radhi, JD and Radha. It was a fabulous way to end the day with everyone returning to the theatre, happy, chatting and sharing and lots of smiles and laughter. We were all winners in the end and Radhi thanked everyone for taking part and sharing. Leaving with gratitude and a beautiful gift from the Manor as well as more delicious vegan cakes, everyone left feeling special, happy, calm and smiling.
For us, it was great to see old friends who have been to other Yes to Life events and to meet some of our beneficiaries for the first time. We loved being around people with such positivity and the feedback – well its understandably been fantastic. 
We will be returning soon. 

You can see details of our upcoming events here

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Cancer Options: Ten Years in Partnership - by Robin Daly, founder of Yes to Life

This week's blog post has been written by the founder of Yes to Life, Robin Daly. As part of our celebration of 10 years in partnership with Cancer Options, he discusses the relationship, Patricia Peat, and how Integrative Medicine is slowly but surely becoming mainstream...

Ten years ago, Yes to Life teamed up with Cancer Options, a consultancy established more than 5 years earlier by Patricia Peat, a highly experienced oncology nurse. Patricia had decided that the scope of cancer treatment needed extending considerably beyond the surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that were, and still largely are, the exclusive methods of conventional medicine.

At that time, the term Integrative Medicine hadn’t been coined, and all the talk was of either conventional or alternative approaches. It was war. Happily, with the passage of time, hostilities are finally beginning to subside for all but a handful of retrograde quackbusters and conspiracy theorists, who are still slugging it out on the front lines of the internet. We are at last beginning to see the rise of what is now termed Integrative Medicine (IM), a rational synthesis of all the available ways to support people with cancer in regaining their health and wellbeing.

Patricia was very much a pioneer in promoting integration all those years ago. This was as a result of her direct experience of what does and doesn’t work in conventional medicine. Unlike most advocates for the inclusion of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) approaches, her roots were in orthodox practice.

One hallmark of IM is that it truly embraces patient choice, in its breadth and inclusivity, and in its recognition of the multiplicity of factors involved in treating cancer successfully. Yes to Life was created to increase and support patient choice, and so, although we never spoke about IM in the early years, it was implicitly the meeting ground for the two organisations. Through Cancer Options, Yes to Life was able to offer callers to our fledgling Helpline (I was the Helpline at the start) personalised information, shortlisting approaches that could be useful to them, given their diagnosis, stage of disease, budget etc, whether conventional or CAM.

This service was our core offering, and it remains so to this day. Having personally experienced what it is like to try to find this information unaided, I would say that it’s hard to understate the effect that quickly obtaining a concise ‘shopping list’ of expertly selected options can have on someone’s chances of living better and longer. Venturing out into the internet alone and unprepared can be wholly overwhelming and utterly confusing. Cancer is one of the most complex areas of medicine with a singularly opaque language of its own, and for every one of the vast number of approaches to be found, there are supporters and detractors who will pronounce it either miracle cure or certain death, respectively. Making any sense of it all without expert help is nigh on impossible.

I’m proud to say that by working together closely, Cancer Options and Yes to Life have been able to help thousands of people to make their own choices to help themselves; and in many cases, Yes to Life has gone on to support people, both financially and in other ways, to access those choices. This in turn has resulted in many, many stories of remarkable remissions and longevity in the face of dire prognoses. 

All of this would not have been possible without the expertise of Patricia Peat and Cancer Options, who are the UK’s top resource for information on the latest developments in IM for cancer. They make it their business to know about integrative clinics worldwide, the latest science and what is working for any given subset of people with cancer. They are often able to bring attention to methods on offer by the NHS that have not been presented as an option. They are fully aware of the ‘hotspots’ internationally, where clinics are achieving unusually good results and of the reasons this is the case. While there are many places you can get a more in-depth view of a particular branch of treatment or discipline, the overview of choices offered by Cancer Options is unparalleled.

I’m delighted by our achievements and the ongoing success of the partnership and I’m grateful to Patricia for her support of our charitable mission. I am looking forward to achieving even more together in the years to come.

If you would like to know more about Cancer Options, head to their website or call the Helpline on 0870 163 2990.