What was the focus of your work?
The title of my project was ‘Between ill and not-ill: Exploring women’s experiences after treatment for DCIS’. The project emerged from my PhD study of women’s experiences of early breast cancer, where some of the participants had been treated for a condition called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) where cells are not yet cancerous but may potentially become so. My study identified some particular challenges faced by these women which became the focus of my project during the fellowship.
Findings in brief were:
- Confusion with the terminology (DCIS is often referred to as pre-cancer)
- Being told that DCIS was non-invasive yet required urgent treatment.
- Despite having had surgery to remove part or whole of their breast(s), some participants expressed guilt that they had not suffered to the same extent as other women with more serious diagnoses.
- This ‘guilt’ often prevented them seeking support despite having similar fears of recurrence of cancer and living with the consequences of breast surgery.
- It highlighted a need for support specifically for women with DCIS.
What did the Mildred Blaxter fellowship offer you that you would not otherwise have been able to do?
I had never intended for my PhD to just sit on a shelf; it was always driven by a desire to highlight the experiences of women post-treatment for early breast cancer (including DCIS). Not only did the fellowship give me an amazing opportunity to pursue this unexpected finding from my PhD, but it also gave me the space to think creatively about ways to disseminate my research.
As well as achieving long-held ambitions to publish in the journals Sociology of Health & Illness and Social Science & Medicine, I was also pleased to have an article published in the Journal of Cancer Nursing. This meant that health professionals would have an insight into what it is like for women to lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy, and also to consider implications for women who do not lose their hair and may consequently miss out on social support. When this article was published, I issued a press release which was picked up by several media outlets including the Huffington Post. I was also interviewed on local BBC News with a friend who was having chemotherapy at the time. She bravely agreed to be interviewed on camera about the impact of losing her hair whilst working as a hairdresser. It was a really powerful message which has been viewed over 5000 times on the BBC Facebook page.
In addition I have been able to maximise the impact of my research by giving interactive talks at local breast cancer support group meetings. I hope to get funding to be able to extend this nationwide. The fellowship also enabled me to present my research at numerous academic conferences, including my first international conference (The third ISA Forum of Sociology in Vienna in July 2016). This would not have been feasible financially without the support of the fellowship. All in all the fellowship was a fantastic year enabling me to establish myself as a leading researcher in this field.
What are you doing now?
At the moment I am employed by the University of Nottingham as a sociology tutor, module convenor, and personal tutor. I am actively seeking employment in a lecturing role and applying for fellowships at the Wellcome Trust and the University of Nottingham, as well as looking for other funding opportunities. The Mildred Blaxter fellowship has demonstrated my ability to successfully apply for funding and has also given me the chance to publish three articles in leading academic journals. These publications, along with my experiences of dissemination to academic and lay audiences, have put me in a much stronger position to pursue my career ambitions.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for a Mildred Blaxter fellowship?
I would advise anyone who is thinking of applying for a Mildred Blaxter fellowship to definitely go for it! It is worth putting in the time to think carefully about what project you would like to do and making sure that it is achievable during the period of the fellowship. Take advice from supervisors and colleagues and have trusted people to look over your application. Also, think carefully about your mentor; I was very fortunate to have Professor Alison Pilnick as both my PhD supervisor and mentor for the Mildred Blaxter fellowship and she continues to look out for me even though the fellowship ended a while ago.
After the award…
You can find out more about Diane’s work on her webpage. Publications arising from her Mildred Blaxter fellowship include:
- Trusson, D., Pilnick, A. and Roy, S. (2016). A new normal? : Women’s experiences of biographical disruption and liminality following treatment for early stage breast cancer. Social Science & Medicine 151: 121-129.
- Trusson, D. and Pilnick, A. (2017). Between stigma and pink positivity: women’s perceptions of social interactions during and after breast cancer treatment. Sociology of Health and Illness, 39 (3): 458-473.
- Trusson, D. and Pilnick, A. (2017). The role of hair loss in cancer identity: Perceptions of chemotherapy-induced alopecia amongst women treated for early stage breast cancer or Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. Cancer Nursing: An International Journal for Cancer Care, 40 (2): e9-e16.