The Bristol Cancer Help Centre
It all started in 1975, when Pat Pilkington and her husband Christopher, an Anglican clergyman, bought a house in Bristol to use as a healing centre. They wanted to offer people spiritual healing, meditation and other natural health promoting activities such as yoga.
From the start their friend Penny Brohn was involved. She was an acupuncturist. In 1979 Penny Brohn lost both her parents and was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. In the full flow of her life at 36, she was stunned. Doctors offered treatment for her body but none for the mental, emotional and spiritual planes, nor any dietary advice.
Borrowing money she took herself to Dr. Joseph Issel’s clinic in Bavaria. Visited by her friend Pat, their experience there led both of them to commit to somehow establishing a holistic centre for people with cancer in Bristol. As she put it, "If I survive long enough I would put all my wit and wisdom" into this project.
Almost immediately Pat was put in touch with Dr. Alec Forbes, an NHS Consultant Physician in Plymouth with a deep interest in healing who was looking for a clinic where he could give cancer patients a programme of natural remedies.
Together the three, Penny, Pat and Dr. Alec, brought the Bristol Cancer Help Centre into being in Autumn 1980. Bea Vernon, the founder of the Gentle Approach to Cancer was one of their first patients. Three years later, they borrowed money and bought Grove House, offering 5 day residentials, taster introductory days and 3 day Bristol Approach days for interested professionals and others.
More recently, in November 2006, they opened Eden Grove, spacious new premises on the outskirts of Bristol. With 26 ensuite bedrooms and 17 therapy rooms they are able to help three times as many people. With a worldwide reputation the centre has been renamed the Penny Brohn Cancer Care.
In 1990 the Centre became national news. Research appeared to show that women with breast cancer who followed the Bristol approach died sooner than those who did not. Subsequently the research was shown to be fatally flawed, as the “Bristol” women’s cancers were already more advanced than the control group. They had not compared like with like. For a while the centre closed, but opened reopened with renewed vigour fairly soon.
Penny herself died in 1999, living with bone secondaries for many years and outliving her initial poor prognosis. In her book ‘The Bristol Programme’ she describes the four founding principles of the centre.
1. That it should be holistic. A place where therapists would show as much interest in people’s heads and hearts as in their livers and lymph glands.
2. That people have a right to take responsibility for their own health and should be empowered to do so, promoting their own self healing.
3. That lifestyle changes may prevent cancer occurring or re-occurring, and this message to patients is vital, as is help in making such changes.
4. That safe and gentle therapies could be used to counteract disease and enhance health, alongside conventional medicines seemingly more aggressive approach.
Dr. Liz Newson January 2009