Contemplating Cancer: a special series from Cochrane UK

Sarah Chapman introduces Contemplating Cancer, Cochrane UK’s special series of blogs and other resources sharing cancer evidence and experience.

Page last updated: 13 January 2022.

Throughout November 2021, we were ‘Contemplating Cancer’, in a special series including blogs and a tweetchat on cancer-related topics. We aimed for it to be both informative and thought-provoking for people with personal or professional experience of cancer, from diagnosis onwards.

Experience and evidence

We had two blogs by doctors who also have personal experience of cancer, as patients. Both reflect on a Cochrane Review on communication skills training for talking to people about cancer – including breaking the news about their diagnosis – in the light of their own experiences from both sides of the table. In the first of these blogs Liz O’Riordan, a breast surgeon with recurrent breast cancer, considers the question “Does communication skills training improve cancer care?” and reflects on how having cancer changed her perspectives.

Charlotte Squires, a specialist trainee in Geriatric Medicine, was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2019, aged thirty. In her blog “Communication with cancer patients: does practice make perfect?” she also draws on her own personal and professional experiences in discussing how this Cochrane Review is helpful in highlighting some strengths and weaknesses of communication skills training and the evidence for it, including the uncertainties about its long-term benefits.

Sally Crowe, whose work focuses on patient and public involvement in health services and research, was treated for a rare cancer two years ago. In her blog “Cancer and Post-Traumatic Stress” she writes about her experience of this common but little talked about consequence of cancer and shares some valuable insights into what she has found can help, or hinder, recovery.

In their blog “Prostate cancer: “To treat, or not to treat?”“, doctors Francisco Lopez, Freddie Hamdy and Alastair Lamb explain why prostate cancer is different from most others, why it might not need treating, and what people may want to consider when making decisions about treatment. They also look at the evidence from a Cochrane Review comparing surgery with monitoring.

Finally, in their blog “Informal caregivers: the invisible people caring for cancer survivors“, psychologists and cancer researchers Beverley Lim Høeg and Pernille Envold Bidstrup look at the challenges faced by those caring for a loved-one with cancer and explore why informal caregivers deserve more focus in cancer treatment and research.

Illustrating cancer topics

At Cochrane UK, we have given a lot of thought to the impact and importance of images used when sharing health evidence and experience and have recently produced some guidance on selecting images. We wanted to use images for this series that might themselves offer something to readers, perhaps stimulating reflection and conversation. It also seemed to us to be important to involve the bloggers who have trusted us with their stories in the way their blogs are illustrated. Sally, Liz and Charlotte have chosen images and shared what they mean for them, in each of their blogs.

Liz O’Riordan chose the image shown at the top of this blog, Waiting #1 by Andy Farr (@andyfarrart). She explains: “If you’ve never received bad news yourself, as a doctor it’s hard to imagine the impact your words have on the patients who hear them. The moment I knew I had cancer, it was as if a lightbulb had gone off. My life was on hold. How much of it did I have left? I had to sit and watch the rest of the world carry on as normal, hoping one day I would be able to join them again.”

Some of the images we use may resonate with you and in different ways. We’d be really interested to hear your responses to them, or to see other images that are meaningful for you. We have used only those images we have permission to use, but you may be interested to see the collections Liz pointed us to, photographs by Emma Barnard and art created by people out of their experience of breast cancer at the Breast Cancer Art Project, such as the examples below.

Artwork, up close of hair
Artwork ‘Daydreams – The Return of My Hair’ by Liv James* (formerly Dianne Russell), is part of the Breast Cancer Artwork Project.
Kim Gibbs created this painting after her mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer- “This painting began with an image of a healthy woman… I have superimposed the body with cancer over it.. the light on the left represents the Hope we have! The circles on the left and right are the disease.”
Artwork: Hope’ by Kim Gibbs** is part of the Breast Cancer Art Project. Kim created this painting after her mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer- “This painting began with an image of a healthy woman… I have superimposed the body with cancer over it.. the light on the left represents the Hope we have! The circles on the left and right are the disease.”

A tweetchat on communicating about cancer

@CochraneUK hosted tweetchat on the theme of ‘communicating about cancer’, from 20.00 to 21.00 GMT on Thursday 12th November, using the hashtag #ContemplatingCancer. Our aim was to engage a wide range of people with experience of cancer: patients and cancer-survivors; informal carers, friends and relatives of people with cancer; and researchers, health professionals and others working for and with people with cancer. Sarah Chapman blogged some insights from the tweetchat here: Communicating about cancer: experiences and reflections.

The questions we explored during the tweetchat:

People who have/had cancer, family and friends

  • what do you want healthcare professionals to know about communicating about cancer?
  • what has made/makes a difference to you in conversations with healthcare professionals about cancer?

Healthcare professionals

  • what do you struggle with when communicating with patients about cancer?
  • what training do you get for communicating about cancer, both formal and informal, and how useful is it?
  • in communicating about cancer, what have you learned that has most influenced or changed your practice?


  • what are your experiences of talking about mental health issues in conversations about cancer?

Thanks to all who joined @CochraneUK and @SarahChapman30 on Twitter.

We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comments below the blogs, or on Facebook or Twitter with @CochraneUK

*Liv James’ Facebook page and group:

**Kim Gibbs’ website: Kim Gibbs Fine Art.

Please note, we cannot give medical advice and we will not publish comments that link to commercial sites or appear to endorse commercial products. We welcome diverse views and encourage discussion. However, we ask that comments are respectful and reserve the right to not publish comments we consider offensive.

Sarah Chapman has nothing to disclose.

Contemplating Cancer: a special series from Cochrane UK by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

4 Comments on this post

  1. […] usual this year. However, I now feel it is time to make a start, and I’ve been aided by the Cochrane UK’s Contemplating Cancer series, which is running throughout November, and in particular, an article wrote by the wonderful Sally […]

  2. Looking forward to this

    Ipshita / Reply
  3. This sounds SO interesting! I would love to be involved if I possibly can be! Do I simply click on the for e.g. join@lCochraneUk or @SarahChapman30? On the other hand I do not ‘do’ twitter…is there another way of joining in? All the best Clare Moynihan (Institute of Cancer Research)

    Clare Moynihan / Reply
    • We’ll be using the hashtag #ContemplatingCancer so putting that into Twitter at the time of the tweetchat (Thursday 12th November 20.00 -21.00) should show the tweets in that conversation (as long as people remember to add it to their tweets!). We’ll be posting questions from @CochraneUK. I am also planning to capture what emerges from the tweetchat in a blog, which will be published here later in the month, and of course we would welcome your comments shared on that blog or any of the others. Thank you for your interest in this series.
      Best wishes,
      Sarah Chapman [Editor]

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Clare Moynihan) Reply

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