Nicola O’Donnell has just begun a CHECT-funded PhD which will ultimately lead to new support resources being developed to help young people who have had Rb transition to adulthood. We took the opportunity to ask her some questions! 

What is your background?

I completed an Applied Clinical Psychology degree in 2016, and I worked in a number of child and adolescent health psychology settings before moving to research roles in 2020 whilst completing my MSc in Health Psychology. These roles allowed me to work with young people to create *psychoeducational interventions, or resources, for various health conditions. I love working with young people, so the chance to complete my PhD in this area is fantastic. Combining this with my personal experience of losing my Dad to cancer has led me to want to make a difference to families living with and beyond cancer.   

*Psychoeducation is an evidence-based tool or process which helps patients and their loved ones to better understand and cope with an illness.

What is the PhD about, and what interest you about this topic area? 

My PhD project is focused on developing a resource/s to support teenagers and young adults who have had Rb. Essentially, this means that I am interested in hearing from young people how having had Rb might have impacted them as individuals growing up in terms of their psychological and social needs (identity, forming friendships and relationships, self-confidence etc.) I am passionate about working with teenagers and young adults to hear about their experiences. The Rb community are best placed to shape the resource, so I am really looking forward to working together on the co-production aspect of the PhD. I hope that I can bring my skills and experience and learn from and work alongside CHECT and young people with lived experience to create a meaningful intervention. 

Nicola O'Donnell with CHECT's Information and Research Manager Petra Maxwell

Nicola O’Donnell with CHECT’s Information and Research Manager Petra Maxwell

What are you hoping to achieve? 

Short-term, I am hoping to connect with young people and families who have personal experience of Rb. I would love the opportunity to talk to these individuals and find out what they think is missing from current psychological support when living beyond cancer diagnosis and treatment, and what they think would be helpful to have.  

Longer-term, I hope to use the above experiences (as well as the evidence-base) to develop a psychoeducational intervention for young people who have had Rb. I don’t know yet exactly what this will look like – it could be a leaflet, a workshop, or even a video! I will be led by what young people tell me would be helpful for them, and they will also be involved in developing the resource with me. Once we have designed an intervention, I hope that we can test this out to see if it’s helpful, and if so, I would love to roll this out as an option to all young people who have had Rb who are interested.  

How can CHECT members get involved? 

There will be many times during my PhD that talking to members of the CHECT community would be really helpful to the project. There will be specific tasks (like attending a focus group, or designing a project logo) that I would love CHECT members to get involved in. There may also be a need for more general involvement throughout the 3 years of the PhD, so please do get in touch at any time if you would like to help out via email – nrv503@york.ac.uk.  You can follow my progress on social media too; Twitter and Instagram.