Review of Yes to Life Conference 1.12.18

I over-reached myself last Saturday to attend the Yes to Life annual conference in London. I was utterly exhausted, but glad I went.

As their website says, Yes to Life empowers people with cancer to make informed decisions about their cancer care options. We provide information to guide people through the confusing options for care and lifestyle choices.

They don’t recommend foregoing NHS treatment and drug regimes, but want to increase knowledge of what complementary tests, treatments and supplements are available which may make conditions harder for cancer cells to thrive. This is very close to my heart as I soon realised that as a Stage 4 patient the NHS protocols were only expected to keep me alive for a very limited period.

While there are many excellent books, charities and other organisations imparting this knowledge my frustration is that they seem to plough their own furrows rather than working collaboratively to bring greater awareness into public knowledge and trying to affect medical opinion. It is hard for cancer patients to get the knowledge they need, and complementary therapies are certainly not endorsed by GPs and oncologists and often their use is discouraged.

Other advanced countries take a different view and have better survival rates than the UK.

The Yes to Life conference brought several different perspectives into the room.

The morning session was chaired by Patricia Peat, Founder of Cancer Options and whose book The Cancer Revolution provides information about treatments and therapies available in the UK and around the world.

Dr Ashwin Mehta updated us on developments in the US in integrative medicine, and the work of the Society for Integrative Oncology. From a country where doctors are financially incentivised to refer patients for chemotherapy, and “heads in beds” is seen as a healthy bottom line, this was welcome news.

Dr Abdul Slocum of the Chemo Thermia Oncology Centre in Istanbul told us about the results they obtain with their combination of therapies. They use Metabolically Supported Chemotherapy which means they can use lower doses of chemotherapy to improve treatment results and reduce side effects. Additionally, they use other treatments tailored to the patient’s metabolism, including hyperthermia, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, off-label drugs and supplements and diet. Dr Slocum showed many examples of patients they had treated successfully. For anyone with cancer who has the financial resources and can travel to Istanbul this would be worth looking into.

The afternoon session focused on developments in the UK.

Ally Jaffee and Iain Broadley were so shocked at the tiny amount of nutrition and lifestyle education on the syllabus of medical schools that they were motivated to found Nutritank, an information and innovation hub for food, nutrition and lifestyle. They work at grassroots and interprofessional levels. There are currently over 15 Nutritank Societies in medical schools increasing the knowledge of nutrition and lifestyle amongst medical students, the student population and the wider community, and increasingly in schools.

Dr Marie Polley told us exactly what Social Prescribing is, and progress being made to enable GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer to a local link worker who can make referrals to support organisations, often in the voluntary and social sectors.

One of the themes for the day running through several presentations was meeting the patient where they are, often using motivational interviewing, so that they can devise a treatment plan which will work for their individual needs.

Robin Daly’s session on developments in Personal Health Budgets showed an example of how this can work in practice for people with continuing healthcare needs.

The final presentation was from the very lively Jonathan Liebling. Political director of the United Patients Alliance Deliberately not using the c word (cannabis) in its title, the Alliance advocates for medical cannabis to be legal, and works closely with the Centre for Medical Cannabis . Jonathan claims that there are currently 1.1m medical cannabis users in the UK, and that GPs on the frontline are supportive but can’t say so. With the increased prominence of the issue and the recent legalisation of medical cannabis he says that influential people now come to him, where previously he had been rejected. Jonathan was understandably very upbeat about recent changes, but it seems to me that progress towards patients actually being able to access medical cannabis is disappointingly slow and it is unclear when or if it will be licensed for use by cancer patients. But encouragingly Jonathan seems to have the ear of the right people.

Another theme for the day was that our health service needs to be more about health than treatment. In cancer that means the focus should be on healing the person, not just killing the cancer. This conference gave me hope that progress is at last being made towards this happening.