Addressing communication challenges when a friend or family member receives a cancer diagnosis has been the focus for Griffith’sDeeHandysideandDrVanetteMcLennan.

Dee, anOnline Development Officerfrom the university’s School of Human Services and Social Workand herself a cancer survivor, said it all started from an educational musical production she has been working on calledThe Silk Rags Project.

Also a singer and songwriter, Dee originally wrote the soundtrack to the production- which looks at real life experiences of having cancer -during her own cancer treatments back in2009.TheSilk RagsProject,aims to enable community groups to collaborate on a performance which will entertain, educate, start conversations, have fun and raise funds.The original productionbegan in 2015and has received some notable awards and media acclaim.

“The musical is about the underlying message regarding communication strategies when a friend receives a cancer diagnosis — from the inappropriate to the awkward,” says Dee.

Advice on how to talk to people

“Following one of the first performances of the production,we had aQandAsessionwith the audienceand it was really surprising that the thing people most wanted to know was advice on how to talk to people who have just received a cancer diagnosis.

“Myscript-writerand fellow cancer patient,BriohneSykesand I realised that the audience, cast and crew needed a resource that would assist them with starting such conversations.”

As a result of this, Dee approached Dr McLennan, Senior Lecturer in Rehabilitation Counselling at Griffith,who collaborated with her on a handout to be given to all cast, crew and audience members following each performance.

“The handout is titled“Not Sure What to Say?”and gives some advice around the topic.

Meanwhile,TheSilk Rags Project raises funds for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) and is currently being marketed to community theatre groups throughout Australia for 2019 productions.

“The one page handouthas now been trialled with cancer patients and survivors as well as members of the public who have not had any experience of either the disease or assisting anyone with a diagnosis,” Dr McLennan says.

“We hope the handout will help people to feel more confident in opening up the communication channels after a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. Everyone is different and will require individualised support, and our tips aim to help people navigate this with compassion.

“Thank you to everyone involved inThe Silk Rags Project for supporting the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and congratulations on all your success to date. As we work towards our vision to outsmart cancer, it is important we continue to address allaspectsof the disease, including how we communicate with each other,”saysProfessor Ian Brown FTSE – CEO ACRF.

Staff and students are encouraged to share The Silk Rags Projectwebsite with friends who are members of any community theatrical group within Australia.


Photo: L-R: DrVanetteMcLennan and Dee Handysideholding the Cancer Communicationtipsheet