The Realshare site is aimed at people aged 16-25 who live in the South West and the project has been managed and evaluated by Dr Niki Panteli, a Reader in information systems, in partnership with University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the Youth Cancer Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust.
The site has been created by professionals who work with young people with cancer, with input from 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.
Research by Dr Panteli identified 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 Panteli 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 South West is a geographically large area and young people with cancer can receive treatment or live a long way from others in a similar situation.
Dr Adam Dangoor, consultant medical oncologist at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre, said: “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, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and describes the benefits of the site: “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.”
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, said: “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.”
The launch of the site has been funded by the University’s EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council) Knowledge Transfer Account and sponsorship from the Youth Cancer Trust.
The University of Bath