“To me beating cancer is not about not dying. It’s about living, really living, every moment and every day. But how could I do that? Who could help me stay on track? Throughout my cancer treatment, despite asking and looking, there were no survivor or support groups where I live in West Dorset.”

This is how Sue Rorstad felt when she was diagnosed with cancer. There was no dedicated cancer care centre in West Dorset to help people take back control of their health and lifestyle. Nearest to Bridport are The Force in Exeter and the Penny Brohn Centre in Bristol. There are excellent disease specific groups, usually assisted by Clinical Nurse Specialists, but few are very local and some are quite a distance away in Poole. However, in October 2012 things changed as Sue explains.

“I was very interested to hear about a new group in Bridport called The Living Tree.” She joined and is now a regular at the Friday meetings. “It’s stimulating, cheerful, a lot of fun and very informative. The members would not have come together had it not been for the cancer they have in common. All ages, different backgrounds, different cancers and different beliefs but all there to help each other.”

Initial start-up funding came from Macmillan and there have been many contributors in 2012/13, all instrumental in making The Living Tree an invaluable asset to the community. These include West Dorset District Council, Dorset Cancer Network, Bridport Carnival, and Brit Valley Rotary.

The Living Tree was granted charitable status in February this year. One year on, the group is well established as a self-help centre for people who have experienced cancer and for their families/carers. Members come from the surrounding areas of West Dorset, East Devon and South Somerset – all are welcome. Everyone is at various stages in their cancer journeys – some recently diagnosed, others undergoing treatment, some in remission, others post-cancer.

The aim of The Living Tree is to offer friendship, creative activities and holistic therapies, relevant diet and lifestyle information for anyone with any cancer. At the first meeting there were five people. In a year that’s grown to over 20 with a larger mailing list of health professionals. Founder members Jo O’Farrell and Jo Millar, delighted with the success so far, take up the story. “We help people cope with the fear, anxiety, and isolation or stress that cancer can bring by creating a caring, nurturing and helpful environment in which to unwind and share laughter (we do a lot of this!) and we talk about coping strategies. We also pool our knowledge and information about services and resources in the locality.”

Thanks to many health workers and therapists who have been incredibly generous with their time, The Living Tree has an ongoing programme of speakers on a variety of relevant topics such as complementary therapies, exercise, relaxation, diet and nutrition and creative arts. “We’ve had talks and demonstrations on topics as diverse as acupuncture, reflexology, diet and nutrition, homeopathy and we’ve tried out Qigong, as well as paper crafts, mindfulness, singing and playing the ukulele!”