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11 September 2012

Launch of New Social Network for Teenagers and Young People with Cancer in the South West

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with the Youth Cancer Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust, and with support from the University of Bath has launched a new social network for young people with cancer, aged 16-25 who live in the South West. 

Realshare is the first NHS independently run and monitored professional social network for young cancer patients in the UK. It has been created by professionals who work with young people with cancer in partnership with some of those young people themselves. The site includes: a social zone including status updates and forums, useful links, and a game zone for light relief.    

Dr Adam Dangoor, consultant medical oncologist at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre, said:  "The South West is a geographically large area and young people with cancer may receive treatment or live a long way from others in a similar situation. We hope that realshare will allow members to chat with others in an informal and safe environment to provide support to them during what might well be a difficult time.   

"Members may be at different points in their treatment journey and have different diagnoses, but they are likely to have insights and ideas that can help each other. The site already has 61 members."    

Emily Thompson, 25, from Bristol, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, says:  "It's a small community which means you are not inundated by lots of people's views. You recognise the same names and it helps you feel more confident about contributing.

'You can talk to people online and know that they are local to the South West. If I share some tips, like about using false eye lashes when you lose all your hair, I know that at some stage I could meet that person face to face which makes it easier to make that initial connection."   

In 2010, Teenage Cancer Trust funded a research project at the University of Bath - School of Management in collaboration with Deidre Brunton Teenage Cancer Trust funded TYA Lead Nurse UH Bristol to establish the social network in partnership with 15 young people with cancer. The project ended in June 2011 and identified that the design and development of the site was what the young people wanted and that there was a real need for an online social network specific to young people with cancer, facilitated and moderated by key staff involved in the care of young people with cancer. 

Dr Niki Panteli, a Reader in information systems from the University of Bath who managed the project and evaluated the development of realshare, said:  "This is a unique site for young people with cancer in the South West because it's been designed with their input. We know from our evaluation that they like it and it's something they need. It's different to other social networking sites because people know that other realshare users understand what they are going through and they feel they can be more open about their feelings and fears."   

The Youth Cancer Trust has been involved with realshare by providing the sponsorship of the branding, design and development since its origination.

Brenda Clark, Founder of the Youth Cancer Trust, says:  "The Youth Cancer Trust is excited to work on a project of this nature.  People, especially young people, communicate more and more these days with one another online.  Digital communication and social networking is something the Trust feels is critical to help reduce the sense of isolation often felt with a cancer diagnosis.  YCT currently provides a physical space for young cancer patients to be with one another for peer support in Bournemouth so realshare supports this in an online sense."  

The launch of the site has been made possible thanks to funding from the University of Bath's EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council) Knowledge Transfer Account and sponsorship from the Youth Cancer Trust.