School of Health Sciences

Photo of Ollie Thurlow

My PhD experience

Ollie Thurlow has recently completed his Health Sciences PhD and is due to graduate this month – his PhD was kindly supported by the 4 Cancer Group.

The 4 Cancer Group provides days out and short breaks for families affected by cancer. They offer a wide range of experiences from sailing days, to afternoon teas and spa visits. Their primary objectives are to be a consistent provider of quality respite services, and to create lasting memories for families affected by cancer.

Ollie tells us what the PhD experience meant to him:

“A good starting point would be to identify why I committed towards studying for a PhD. As well as wanting to enhance my education, the opportunity was important to me because I wanted to contribute towards policy reforms in the field of cancer rehabilitation and survivorship through a ‘real world’ collaboration.

“Looking back now, I can safely state that my thesis certainly delivers an effective and coherent message of how the third-sector can contribute towards the range of services that are currently on offer for those entering the rehabilitation and survivorship phase of the ‘cancer trajectory’.

“Crucially, my experience of fulfilling a PhD has taught me so much about both the process of research collaborations, policy, philosophy, and the psychology of what it means to live with and beyond cancer. I consider the entirety of the experience to be my apprenticeship in research practice and I can fully comprehend how I am going to use certain elements of my further education in my next steps as a trainee therapist for the NHS.

“Most importantly, I want to stress how rewarding the experience has been. Whilst there are days that felt like a complete fog, whereby I was unable to see how I could achieve the next goal, the process has helped me to grow both professionally and personally.

“Lastly, I want to thank my supervisory team, Kathleen Galvin, Pirjo Vuoskoski, and Kitty Suddick. All three have been incredibly supportive and kind along the way.”

The Study
The study was designed to enhance understanding of the use of recreational programmes in the natural environment for those living with and beyond cancer. Moreover, there has been a greater demand for an understanding of a wider inclusion of services that are designed to enhance rehabilitation and survivorship from the third sector (Burke et al., 2017).

The research considers how a wider inclusion of services removed from the NHS would not only create a greater diversity of unique approaches to holistically support those living with and beyond cancer, but it would also alleviate the pressure facing the NHS’ cancer services. It was, therefore, the aim of this collaborative study to explore alternative approaches to facilitate rehabilitation and survivorship through the third sector, thereby examining if this is a viable option for all involved

Key Findings
One of the key findings from the research project emphasises the value and impact of being able to seek support from those who have shared similar experiences of post-treatment fears and vulnerabilities (i.e. mastectomy and breast reconstruction awareness). Also, those involved described how the recreational activities were an opportunity to be closely associated with living and being in an environment that offered a space to connect with what was in their immediate experience. Such a conscious awareness of the immediate experience allowed a number of the participants’ to see themselves beyond their pre-conceived boundaries. Yet, this immediate awareness did not present itself as a moment of understanding something that was once incomprehensible but did, on the other hand, simplify their state of being by living through the exact moments of their recreational activities.

For other participants’, the recreational activities were an opportunity to feel and become immersed in a new environment with a significant other, sharing the possibilities of the experience with a relative or an entire family unit. Therefore, the participants’ were clear that the 4 Cancer Group’s services provided valuable opportunities to live and be in the present moment, which is something that had been challenging during their diagnosis and treatment for cancer.

Recommendations
Recommendations from Ollie’s research have included enhancing service provision, clear articulation of an underpinning conceptual framework, which recommends nature-based solutions models of care, such as the ‘green perspective’ such as farming/gardening/forest walks, and also the ‘blue perspective’, which is water-based such as surfing, wild swimming and sailing days, and also including increased respite for families. The research also recommends establishing wider collaborative strategies amongst the various sectors of society, all to position the 4 Cancer Group in a way that will enable the charity, and those who offer similar initiatives, to meet its strategic targets and continue supporting those living with and beyond cancer.

Find out more about 4 Cancer Group on their website

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Kerry Burnett • February 1, 2021


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