As a long time fan of Sophie Sabbage’s book, The Cancer Whisperer, and the ethos that Sophie embodies and her Facebook group of fellow Whisperers have adopted in the face of Stage 4 cancer, I was thrilled to see that Sophie was running a workshop on Patient Power at Penny Brohn with PB’s Medical Director, Dr Catherine Zollman – my idea of the perfect partnership!
Despite following Sophie online, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the workshop, but from the outset it was clear that having outlined key principles and established some basic ground rules for participation, Sophie was happy to let the afternoon unfold led by the responses of her audience, making for a very informal and relaxed atmosphere. Where I had perhaps expected the focus to be on ‘patient power’ being about the relationship between you as a patient and the medical team, Sophie’s approach was to examine the mental and emotional blocks that prevent us from stepping into our own power in that, or indeed any other relationship.
Working with individuals who shared their personal stories with incredible courage and candour, Sophie supported and encouraged them in challenging long held self beliefs and the self talk that held them back from truly expressing their feelings, making for a deeply moving and inspirational experience not just for those directly involved but for all of us in the room. It was wonderful to find that others’ stories/fears/emotions had such resonance with my own – so many of us seem to try to be ‘fine’ when really we are not, and it can feel like a lonely place to be, but knowing others face the same challenges created a real sense of shared experience. Sophie was just wonderful in getting to the heart of the matter in a gentle yet persistent way, at the same time as drawing out key points, and pointers, for us all to learn from and adopt.
The afternoon was perfectly rounded off by Dr Zollman who outlined the view from the medical practitioner’s perspective, really addressing why it sometimes feels like an ‘us versus them’ relationship, the issues that cause this to happen and some of the ways it can be addressed. Most of all, it was good to be reminded that our medical teams are people too, they are doing a difficult job in increasingly challenging circumstances so when they may not respond positively to questions about complementary approaches or alternative treatments, it is not necessarily because they are not interested or dismissive of them, they just don’t have the resources to explore them. It was also a message of hope – more GPs and oncologists are becoming aware of the importance of the Whole Life approach and of treating patients as people first and foremost, Penny Brohn UK continues to raise the profile of how much difference this can make in any treatment plan, and I came away from the session more positive about both my relationship with my oncology team and the possibility of helping them see how they can best support me in all aspects of my health and wellbeing.
That’s a lot of words to say the Patient Power Workshop gets 10 out of 5 stars in my view, my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough, but I sincerely hope that the plan that was hatching between Sophie and Catherine to offer some longer, maybe 2 day, sessions comes to fruition. If so, I for one will definitely be signing up!