An 18-month project which explored the impact of prostate cancer on relationships culminated recently in a performance attended by 200 people at The Drill Hall Theatre in central London.
The project, “COUPLES – facing prostate cancer together”, consisted of a series of in-depth interviews and photograph records of a range of people from across the UK affected by the illness. Using these interviews a script was created and professional actors performed scenes depicting different stages of prostate cancer and its treatment.
Dr Danny Kelly, Reader in Cancer and Palliative Care at Middlesex University led the COUPLES project and worked with photographic artist Tim Wainwright. The project was commissioned by the Prostate Cancer Charity after Dr Kelly received the Jeremy Gambrill Award in 2008. The award was established to fund projects designed to improve the lives of men living with prostate cancer, in memory of a former trustee of The Prostate Cancer Charity who died of the disease in 2002, aged only 54.
Dr Kelly said: “We went and met people who had been affected by the illness, I interviewed them and Tim photographed them. We then created a website, which we finished earlier this year. Then we thought ‘we’ve got all these interviews with people which are really rich in substance. Is there any other way we can raise awareness of Prostate Cancer in an innovative way during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month?’ (March).”
So, with the help of director Sarah Tipple, script writer Victoria Hume and four professional actors, they created this unique performance piece from the interviews.
Dr Kelly said: “Victoria took the actual words from the interviews and we created a script from it, which I think worked incredibly well, as it brought home the personal impact of the illness.”
Louise Boden, Director of Nursing at University College London Hospitals, was present at the performance at The Drill Hall in Bloomsbury. She said: “The use of ‘real time’ experiences are a most powerful learning tool for staff but also for patients themselves to help with issues of isolation and, equally, for relatives and carers.”
Also present on the night, the Prostate Cancer Charity’s Head of Services, Sarah Porch, said: “Prostate Cancer Awareness Month is aiming to uncover this hidden cancer and COUPLES is a celebration of all that can be achieved when a man with prostate cancer has the support he needs from the different relationships in his life."
Dr Kelly is now looking at the possibility of staging the performance again to help raise awareness of the impact of the illness. He said: “This was an example of using research in a different way to ensure that it has impact beyond the traditional publication route.
“Another unique aspect of this project was that the people who took part were also invited to the performance and were able to confirm the impact of hearing one's words and real life experiences played out on stage. Usually these things go un-noticed during serious illness but the participating couples agreed that they had shared valuable lessons about giving and receiving support during cancer.”
He added: “We have already been asked to bring the performance to Stockholm in 2011 as part of ECCO 16- one of the largest conferences for cancer professionals and scientists held every two years. I hope we can also share it with more people in the UK before that.”