The Gentle Approach to Cancer
In 1982 Cancer Support Groups, promoting a holistic but complementary approach to cancer, were pioneers. Most of the complementary therapies that we all recognise today were not well known and even the word holistic was not in general use while the words complementary medicine only really replaced alternative medicine in the mid-eighties.
The Bristol Cancer Support Centre had been set up the year before and Bea Vernon, a retired Primary School Headmistress was one of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre’s first patients. Bea was determined to bring the vision of Bristol to the North West. A strong minded and very spiritual lady had made a decision to promote the healing that she had felt by taking up this holistic approach.
She gathered around her a very dedicated team of helpers and trained them in the ideas of holism – mind, body, spirit (note: spirit without being religious). Bea Vernon was inspirational to those around her with her energy, enthusiasm and the clarity with which she explained ideas.
The body had to be strengthened to fight the cancer so food became a therapy. A dedicated team of helpers cooked a vegan meal for up to 100 people, with innovative recipes from Bristol or developed by Hazel Haygarth. A tradition further developed in Preston by Marilyn.
The mind was all important. Love of life, determination to live, the ability to learn new things to strengthen the mind and decrease stress like meditation and visualisation were all fostered. Patients came from all over the North of England and from Scotland because there were no other equivalent centres north of Bristol at the time. When they came they were surrounded with a loving, caring atmosphere conducive to healing. Everyone felt that they were in a very special group doing a special job. Many patients went away and started other support groups where they lived.
The complementary therapies were introduced as therapies and therapists became available but these were seen as just tasters. The underlying message was always one of self-help. The centre was not there to treat patients so that they became dependent. It was to help patients discover their own personal cancer journey. They could then go home and put it into practice.
A doctor came as a patient and stayed on as a therapist and Sheila Ross is still with us giving the talk to new patients and acting as a counsellor at the Preston Group. Liz Newsom, formerly the doctor at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, moved to the North West and is now Chair of the Trustees as well as a therapist at the Preston Centre.
Dorothy, a former nurse and a trained reflexologist, became a helper in the kitchen in Heysham, before becoming a therapist there. Bea Vernon and Arnold Coughlin (then Chair of the Trustees) suggested to Dorothy that she start another group in Preston. The process started over again with Dorothy recruiting a small group of helpers from her friends. Many of that group are still with us. One therapist, Robert Benson, still working with the Preston Group, was an original recruit of Bea Vernon 21 years ago
Cancervive in Blackpool opened in spring 1995, thanks to the determination and committment of Barbara and Phil Moran. Barbara lived in Cleveleys and attended Preston as a patient. She wanted to bring the same method and approach to Cancer patients in Blackpool and the process started by Bea Vernon was again repeated.
The vision of all the Centres has been that of helping people with cancer reclaim control of their lives, through learning to help themselves in a loving supportive environment. This really is the core of the GACA’s approach - that we all have our own inner healing abilities, and that body, mind and spirit create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That we are the expert on ourselves if we can learn to listen to our own inner wisdom, that access to information is powerful and leads to change. Patients attending the Centres have learnt to laugh, to dance, to meditate, to visualise, to exercise, to use awareness of all the senses to create an inner happiness and to use food as medicine. This is thanks to the vision of those who started the ball rolling. It is still rolling. Thanks to Ida Whitehead, Robert Benson, Sheila Ross and Dorothy Hindley for their memories of the Gentle Approach to Cancer.
The Gentle Approach to Cancer Association 1982 - 2003
1982 Bea Vernon set up Cancer Support group meeting in her own home in Yealand Conyers and in the local Friends Meeting House.
1983 Support Group moved to Methodist Church Hall in Torrisholme
1983 moved to Heysham High School and was then called the Morecambe Bay Cancer Help Centre.
1984 Charitable Status awarded and named changed to Gentle Approach to Cancer Association.
1988 Dorothy Hindley set up Preston Group set up as part of the Gentle Approach to Cancer Association at a room in Sharoe Green Hospital before moving to Moor Lane Day Centre in 1990, then to the Deepdale Day Centre in 1994.
1992 Heysham group closed down due to lack of numbers
1995 Barbara and Phil Moran set up CancerVive in Blackpool as part of the Gentle Approach to Cancer Association.
2008 Preston Group move to the Ribblebank Resources Centre
from Dr. Liz Newson's report to the 2003 AGM of the Gentle Approach to Cancer Association