Community//

Women in Wellness: “Eating well and exercising can help defend against depression, will sharpen your memory and stabilize your mood” with Joanne Smith, founder of FACT Cancer Support

Your mental health also depends upon your healthy lifestyle choices. Eating well and exercising can help defend against depression, will sharpen your memory and stabilise your mood. By learning to expand your range of food choices and make smart lifestyle decisions, you can benefit from an improved mood and a better outlook on life. Asa […]

Your mental health also depends upon your healthy lifestyle choices. Eating well and exercising can help defend against depression, will sharpen your memory and stabilise your mood. By learning to expand your range of food choices and make smart lifestyle decisions, you can benefit from an improved mood and a better outlook on life.


Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanne Smith. Joanne is the founder of FACT (Fighting All Cancers Together) Cancer Support, and hold the position of Chair of Trustees. She’s also a graduate of the MBA programme at Durham University Business School in the UK. FACT provides help, support and social opportunities for people going through the cancer journey, as well as their families and friends. The charity builds partnerships with health professionals, statutory bodies, support groups and services, charities and voluntary organisations, as well as providing education and awareness programmes, and events delivered as a road show into schools, colleges and places of work.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Joanne! What is your “backstory”?

Whilst working on a research project for a Children’s Mental Health organisation, I found myself as a well-educated individual looking for more. My relationship with Durham University Business School started shortly after. After completing my postgraduate I moved swiftly onto my Master’s in Business and Enterprise Management

In March 2005, on my daughter’s second birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My son was only seven years old. I quickly became aware, in the hardest way possible, of the devastating effect a diagnosis of cancer has within a family. No matter who the patient is, their entire family, their friends and colleagues are all affected. When I left the care of the hospital, where I was very well looked after, I was surprised to find that there was no practical or emotional support for me or, more importantly, for my friends and family.

It was early into my Masters studies that I was diagnosed, but I decided to continue with my studies and I am grateful I did. The business school were very supportive during this difficult time, and this gave me a further focus during my treatment. In 2008, having been successfully treated for cancer I was inspired to use my business skills to set up FACT (Fighting All Cancers Together) to provide the support services that weren’t there for me and my family, so that everyone affected by cancer in the North East of England could find the help they need easily in one place, in good time, when they need it and free of charge. It was important to me that help was easily accessible and so FACT helps anyone affected by cancer without the need for referral.

After graduating and working part -time, FACT’s inception materialised. With help from a small group of volunteers, I set up FACT in my spare bedroom. I had formed and developed sound relationships, personally and commercially, with fellow students and staff within the business school, which supported FACT’s birth and continues to do so. Over the last 10 years the charity has grown from there into a North East regional charity, operating from a dedicated cancer support centre, helping 2,000 service users. The charity exists to…

• Provide support and guidance for cancer sufferers and their friends, family and carers

• Create a platform for the exchange of experiences, views and information

• Provide facilities to improve service users’ life conditions

Very early on, when I couldn’t find what people were looking for, I started to research, source and fill the gaps in service provision myself — either as a one off for an individual, or by developing a programme of readily accessible support.

FACT receives no statutory support or funds for the services it delivers and is constantly fundraising to allow its work to continue and to grow.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?

• Nutrition

• Exercise

• Mind

Living a healthy lifestyle has both physical and emotional rewards, and can prolong your life. A healthy lifestyle includes eating a varied and nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding harmful activities like smoking, not protecting against the sun and drinking to excess. It also includes eliminating stress from your life and maintaining a healthy weight. While it is sometimes hard to break unhealthy habits, learning to take care of your mind and body will benefit you throughout your lifespan.

Living a healthy lifestyle can be a challenge when you are faced with processed foods, a lack of time for exercise and trying to keep up with seeing friends. Too many options are available for fast food, poor exercise choices and alcoholic beverages that negate other healthier lifestyle choices you may have made. However there are significant benefits to improving the way in which you live so you can have a healthier and longer life.

  1. Disease Prevention

Even though you may understand the relationship between eating specific foods and your risk for heart disease, it can be difficult to undo years of unhealthy eating habits. However, the benefit is the prevention of arthritis, osteoporosis, stroke, diabetes and other immune-mediated illnesses that are affected by the dietary and lifestyle choices we make every day.

2. Injury Prevention

Living a healthy lifestyle includes paying close attention to safety issues that may increase your potential for being injured. For instance, using appropriate lifting techniques when weightlifting will help to prevent back injuries that can plague you for the remainder of your life.

3. Increased Energy

Making lifestyle changes and eating healthy food is not about being unrealistically thin, but rather about having more energy and staying as healthy as possible. Eating well can boost your energy levels and allow you to participate in more active lifestyle. Research has found overwhelming evidence that regular exercise also plays a role in increasing energy levels and reducing fatigue.

4. Healthy Weight

The healthy lifestyle choices of stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and eating a well-balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and fats will help to maintain a healthy weight.

5. Good Mental Health

Your mental health also depends upon your healthy lifestyle choices. Eating well and exercising can help defend against depression, will sharpen your memory and stabilise your mood. By learning to expand your range of food choices and make smart lifestyle decisions, you can benefit from an improved mood and a better outlook on life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I don’t have just one story, I have been fortunate to have many. Since this journey began I have met and engaged with people on so many levels, across ever-changing communities and am privileged to have been part of their life stories. Every day is different and every individual personal journey is different.

One of the many I cherish is the start of my relationship with Denise Robertson. I had contacted Denise early into FACT’s life as a generic request for her to become a FACT Patron. I received a wonderful and caring letter explaining why she couldn’t commit at that time due to work and other charity commitments, and she would not sign up to something she could not truly support with her time. A year later I invited her to open a large event FACT had coordinated to raise awareness and she kindly accepted. On arrival her first words were to apologise for turning us down as becoming a Patron and I thanked her for her kind letter and that I understood. Denise spent the whole day with us and was a true inspiration. As she was leaving and I escorted her to the door, she apologised again and asked if she could change her mind and become a Patron to FACT. It was truly humbling that not only did she want to become a Patron but that the request had now come from her to FACT. Denise became a Patron and a friend — I miss her incredibly.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t think it’s a mistake as such, but more an observation as I wouldn’t change it now looking back. When building my business plan I had simply assumed that the support and services already existed for people who needed them. The initial concept of FACT was for it to be a signposting organisation — I wrongly thought we would be able to find these services and signpost people to them. However, I’m glad that process happened as it made me realise very quickly that the lack of support was larger than I had originally thought, and extended beyond my own experiences.

If I hadn’t initially made that first assumption I may not have researched how best to position FACT as thoroughly. It also prepared me to take the reigns in putting those services in place for the people who needed them the most. Hence FACT quickly evolved into a service providing organisation.

When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Everyone’s journey with cancer is completely different, happens at different stages and has ever changing needs. The world, to an individual, could mean many things from their health, their family or the geographical world as we see it. But we don’t interpret that for them, they do. The goal is to support their health and wellness development in line with their own aspirations, achieving their best possible journey. That may range from having a coffee and a chat to bereavement counselling. Sometimes they become intertwined with others which also has a positive impact on tackling isolation and developing social inclusion.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

From the beginning of this journey my family and friends have been the energy behind me. There’s not one single person, but instead a collective group of my nearest and dearest. The community around me and the beneficiaries we support have inspired me to shape who and what we are. It’s not a personal biological family any longer, we have become a FACT family, an ever-changing banquet of services, addressing the needs of beneficiaries and the community.

I also became a mentor at Durham University Business School, and the staff and students have continued to support FACT with fundraising and awareness creating the partnership we have today.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I remember from my childhood the strong community spirit of where I lived, all for one and one for all, supporting one another in good and bad times.

Community spirit is not about one single individual, one company, one business, one group, but about an entire community coming together with the spirit to help those less fortunate than themselves. A community working together to help improve the area they live in and the lives of the people within. FACT has become this where it wouldn’t naturally sit, and our sense of community is strong enough to be named a family.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The success comes from all within and associated with FACT. The measure of this comes from the demand of our services through recommendations of positive experiences even in the direst of times. FACT started by supporting a handful of people from a spare bedroom and today actively engages with 2,000 direct beneficiaries, 215 volunteers and helps people across the North East.

From these humble beginnings, we’re developed a wide suite of activities, counselling and therapies which are all available free of charge, without referral, to anyone affected by cancer. The list is demand led and depends on the demographic and needs of the current service users. This support is available to the person diagnosed with cancer and their family, friends, carers, colleagues etc. Support can be offered either on a one to one basis or as a group or family unit. If someone needs support that is not currently available from FACT we will find a way to source, it for them.

What is your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

I don’t have an “I wish someone told me” moment and, in retrospect, I’m glad. The services and support we offer are beneficiary lead, organic and open. If someone had told me the “what’s and if’s”, I may not have conducted the research or consulted the people who needed it the most, or the community. This has been, and still is, crucial to our success. Giving the people what they need when they need it.

Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )

Katie Piper is an inspirational lady. In March 2008, she was attacked with acid by her ex-boyfriend and an accomplice, causing major damage to her face and blindness in one eye. This experience led her to found the Katie Piper Foundation. Its aim is to have a world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of wellbeing.

Similarly, cancer has no limits, no boundaries and is non-discriminatory.

The aims of the Katie Piper Foundation and FACT have key synergies;

• To improve outcomes

• To deliver — directly or indirectly in the UK

• To support ALL throughout their recovery

• To develop key relationships, collaborations associations and partnerships to ensure support is relevant, timely and accurate

And the links between Katie and FACT don’t stop there.

Following our own long and difficult battles, we have used our own journeys as a catalyst to develop a charity which is unique. Both are forcing positive change following adversity.

Katie and the Foundation are close to realising one of their dreams: to establish a dedicated burn rehabilitation centre unlike anything that currently exists in the UK. FACT is also close to building the FACT Cancer Support, Awareness & Education Centre, the first of its kind in the UK. This is a massive achievement not only for FACT, but for Gateshead, for the North East and for the UK. The FACT centre is designed on a holistic principle of bringing together a range of services that will support individuals on their personal cancer journeys as well as reaching out to support their family and friends.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental Health. A recent study by the National Cancer Centre has shown some patients frequently experience a process like grieving after diagnosis and during palliative or end-of-life care. There is evidence to support the existence of PTSD within both cancer survivors and cancer patients. This is a direct result of traumatic experiences associated with the disease, and because the potential for a fatal prognosis is high.

Cancer is a huge problem in the UK. Incidence rates have increased by 12% since the early 1990s — largely due to a growing and ageing population — and the number of cancer cases is projected to rise by more than 40% to around 514,000 new cases per year in 2035, with a greater increase in men than women. This increase will place an unprecedented burden on an already stretched healthcare system.

Mental health is heavily under supported and, as these factors increase, existing services will be further stretched. We know through FACT counselling services that demand is ever increasing.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter: @FACTCancer @JoanneFACT

Facebook: FACT CANCER SUPPORT

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.