Obituary: Penny Brohn

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The Independent Culture
AS SURVIVORS of the ill-fated "Chilvers Report" which you mention in your excellent obituary of Penny Brohn [by Tim Bullamore, 12 February], may we correct a couple of details? write Isla Bourke and Heather Goodare.

The women with breast cancer taking part in the survey and attending the Bristol Cancer Help Centre for complementary care numbered 334, and were compared with 461 women who underwent orthodox therapy only. The Bristol Survey Support Group, formed to challenge the research and support Penny and the centre, managed to contact 23 of the Bristol women through the cancer self-help network. Eleven of these women contributed their stories to a book, Fighting Spirit, published in 1996 by Scarlet Press. Also, while in no way wishing to denigrate Penny's splendid and inspiring achievement, your figure for UK five-year survival of women with breast cancer should be corrected to 63 per cent.

Our work has borne fruit. Though we cannot of course claim the entire credit for trends towards consulting consumers in medical research, we have made a contribution. The Cochrane Collaboration has taken the lead in involving consumers in its work. The NHS now has a Standing Advisory Group on consumer involvement in its Research and Development programme, and the NHS Health Technology Assessment Programme also consults consumers.

Moreover, "integrative medicine", rather than add-on complementary care, is the order of the day, and cancer help centres may now be found in many hospital settings - a far cry from the days when Penny Brohn was told, "There is nothing you can do to help yourself." Today every supermarket has its department of organic produce, whereas when Penny was trying to find it 20 years ago it was extremely scarce.

As she used to say about the crisis of cancer, crises can be turned into opportunities. Inspired by her, this is just what we did.