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Cancer Survivor and The Living Tree founder Jo Millar

The Living Tree, Bridport

With roots firmly planted in the earth, The Living Tree cancer support group reaches out, looks up and looks at life in a new, very positive, way…

When Jo Millar was diagnosed with breast cancer just after her 50th birthday, she admits it was a huge “wake-up call”.

She realised she couldn’t immediately access information on the best diet while she underwent her treatment; what sort of exercise she should or shouldn’t be doing; or how to cope with the side-effects of treatment.

Jo Millar is a doctor, a GP at Bridport Medical Centre, and she says: “My first reaction was that I don’t have time for this! I don’t get cancer, I’m a doctor!

It was while she had a year off work, undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and recovery that the idea of The Living Tree became a reality.

“The whole concept of the Living Tree was something, that by complete coincidence, Jo O’Farrell, now our secretary, and I had both been thinking about separately,” says Jo.

Why can’t we have that in Bridport?

“I did a lot of reading and had the opportunity to visit the Penny Brohn centre in Bristol and a friend, who was also being treated for breast cancer, took me to see The Force in Exeter which is a big cancer support centre, and I thought: Why can’t we have that in Bridport?

“So I had been mulling this over and at the same time Jo O’Farrell, who I only knew vaguely as another mum around the town, had been thinking the same thing — that it would be lovely to have a local support group for people with any cancer, that gives them advice on how to look after themselves while they go through their treatment and after they have had their treatment. Something that could just be a lifeline.”

The Living Tree got off the ground in the summer of 2012.

Jo O’Farrell had approached the Quaker meeting room in Bridport and secured the use of the space on Friday afternoons.

The Living Tree group practicing watercolours of flowers

Macmillan Cancer Support gave advice on getting a start-up grant and the Living Tree became a “small charity”.

“We have a core of group members; others come and go,” explains Jo Millar.

“Sadly we have lost some people who joined the early group, whose cancer in the end got the better of them. But all the time more and more people are finding out about us.

“We try to very hard to make sure that anything we do appeals to both men and women.

“Anyone who has cancer themselves, or who has a relative who does, or who cares for someone, can be on our mailing list. Jo sends out a weekly newsletter and lets us know what’s going on in advance.

“Then there’s the emotional support as well, which you just cannot underestimate.

“I had been busy working full-time and then suddenly not. It just throws your whole identity into question.

“How do you tell your family, your children? And life still throws things at you while you are coping with your cancer treatment.

We’re not a miserable group!

“You just feel so relieved to be able to talk to other people who have gone through the same thing as you; who have got this immediate understanding.

“One woman who came for the first time said she couldn’t believe how she arrived, was immediately involved, took part in an art group and then had a lovely foot massage, all on a Friday afternoon.

“But we’re not a miserable group! We don’t sit around necessarily discussing our new lump, but if someone wants to talk about something we are very keen that they should be able to.
“We empower people to see that they can still feel good about themselves, that life is still meaningful.

“So we make sure that there is plenty happening that people can get involved in and that they can then share their experiences with someone else.”

The Living Tree meets on Fridays between 2pm and 4.30pm at the Friends’ Meeting House in South Street, Bridport. It offers friendship, mutual support, creative activities, holistic therapies, diet and lifestyle information for anyone with any kind of cancer

The afternoon starts with a speaker or demonstration and the group finishes the afternoon chatting, sharing experiences and exchanging thoughts. People are welcome to drop in for part of the afternoon, or to “pick and mix” sessions. The Living Tree also supports members who never attend meetings at all.

Visit thelivingtree.org.uk for more information or contact Jo O’Farrell on 01308 427851

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