Penny Brohn and Living well with Cancer

Penny Brohn – originally known as the Bristol Cancer Help Centre was founded in 1980 by Penny Brohn and her friend Pat Pilkington. Penny was in her early 30’s when she was diagnosed with cancer. She soon realised that what people in her situation also needed, alongside conventional medicine, was “care for the mind, the spirit, the emotions, the heart and the soul”.

Penny sadly passed away in 1999 having lived with cancer for 20 years and her legacy has helped provide invaluable support and care to many.

Penny Brohn UK remains the leading UK charity specialising in complementary care to help people live well with the impact of cancer by offering the Bristol Whole Life Approach. People with cancer and their families can explore which lifestyle is right for them by finding out about eating well, learning simple techniques to help manage stress and discover which physical activities are beneficial. They give people the space and the time for reflection and to focus on themselves. It costs them over £2 million each year to keep their doors open. What they are able to offer is free of charge thanks to the charitable donations and voluntary contributions which fund their work and provide this free service for cancer sufferers, survivors and their families.

I had not heard about Penny Brohn until 2017, and I really wish someone had told me about them during my first cancer journey in 2005. It is the most incredibly relaxing place set in beautiful surroundings. You feel welcome and safe. I attended a 2 day residential course which is just one service that they offer and for me this course was an emotional journey. I came away having made new friends and feeling empowered and new tools to use and take forward. There were 14 of us in the group all with different stages of cancer, including 4 ‘supporters’, being husbands or close friends. There were a few of us with Stage 4 cancer and I was the baby of the bunch after only being on this leg of my journey for 5 months. The women in the group were incredible all with their own stories and experiences. Their humour, insight, compassion, understanding and what has become friendship was refreshing and uplifting. It was a time spent having the freedom to talk openly about cancer and not worrying about upsetting anyone and having a chance to reflect.

Sometimes you need that space for ‘you’. A time to spend with yourself – and how many of us actually do this? A time to reflect on your journey so far. An opportunity to take time out and explore other aspects of ‘looking after yourself’. It is not just the physical, medical side of your treatment but it is about looking after your spirit, your emotions and your mind. It is learning to be in the here and now – enjoying that moment.

A difficult part for me – and it still is for me – is the acknowledgement and acceptance that my time is running out. Time is running out for all of us, which I get told quite a lot –  and it is true, but please don’t be offended by this, its easy for people to say when they are not actually faced with that knowledge.

I should have posted this a few weeks ago but these last couple of weeks have been difficult. I have not been in a great place and this Mrs Claus nearly hung her hat up and became Scrooge!! But my cancer is still at bay, my hair has started growing back and it is 3 more sleeps to Christmas Day!!

So for now – good night.


2 thoughts on “Penny Brohn and Living well with Cancer

  1. Dear Ali,

    Another touching, wise and honest addition to your Blog.

    Your sentence “Time is running out for all of us, which I get told quite a lot – and it is true, but please don’t be offended by this, its easy for people to say when they are not actually faced with that knowledge” is particularly apt but it is also worth us all remembering the truth which is that none of us ever knows the minute!

    Your ending is, as always, bravely optimistic – your “cancer is still at bay”, your “hair has started growing back” and it is now less than “3 more sleeps to Christmas Day!!”

    Isn’t it wonderful to remember all the wonderful Christmases we shared in BPC – the music, the candlelight services, the atmosphere and the people?

    Have a happy time with Neil and your daughters, extended family and friends. I wish you the best Christmas Present ever – continued improving health in the New Year so that continue living with cancer for a long time to come as a shining example of all good things to those who know and love you.

    Ian x



    1. Dearest Ian,

      Thank you for your message and for your kind and wise words. And I do completely agree that no one ‘ever knows the minute’. That is why I am trying to learn to be in the here and now – which is fine for most of the time – but it can be very hard.

      I miss our days in BPC and always that little bit more at more at Christmas time. They are wonderful memories and ones I cherish.

      Christmas will be spent with my family and my eldest daughter’s boyfriend for dinner. Amy, my youngest, is working on Christmas Day – she works for the Ambulance Service and has a 12 hr night shift from 7 pm but at least we have the day together. We are all looking forward to spending some quality time together and making more happy memories.

      I hope you have a happy Christmas and I will be keeping me blog updated! I might even do a video one!!
      Much love,


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