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In 2016, a team of researchers from Sheffield University created a play about how people living with breast cancer and other health problems interact and use forums like ours, to gain support from others. Eithne Cullen, one of our Breast Cancer Voices, recently watched a performance of the play. This is her review.
A team of researchers at Sheffield University have been working on a project looking at how people living with breast cancer and other health problems interact with and use forums to gain support from others. The project is called A Shared Space and a Space for Sharing.
In 2016, they developed the play, A Space for Sharing to convey their key research findings through drama. The play came about through collaboration between the Sheffield researchers and the professional theatre company - Dead Earnest. The result is a powerful and memorable drama telling the stories of five fictional women diagnosed with breast cancer who gain support from an online health forum.
The play has been performed at a number of events enabling audiences, which include health professionals, to find out about online health forums. It is also intended to help people think about whether this support would be useful either for themselves or for patients in their care.
On a bare stage a group of five women move their chairs and tap their keyboards as they engage with each other. Their movement reinforces the cyclical nature of forums, as people leave, more join etc. They share high and low moments; they express some of their fears and talk about the side effects of their treatment. The acting was realistic and, often, emotional. The message that this forum was an example of the empathy we can draw from others is a great support - and the whole play is one of empathy and sensitivity around issues woman and men face on this journey.
It’s a strong ensemble, some characters are more reserved than others, some more outspoken and all of them concerned, compassionate and believable.
The play illustrates the types of support offered by forums like friendship, emotional support and information sharing. We can see the benefits and potential risks of joining forums. But what came across for me most was the idea that online health forum friendships support people through their individual journeys with breast cancer. It is a powerful piece of drama.