Sense of our selves

As young people, we are constantly evolving - trying to find ourselves, figure out who we are and make our place in society. Being told you have cancer can disrupt this process, creating a disconnect with what is important to you and even who you are as a person.

 Part of the challenge of cancer is that when people think about cancer treatment, they imagine long hospital stays. In 2011, an Ambulatory Care service was developed at UCLH within the Teenage and Young Adult cancer service. It enables young people aged 13-24 to stay in a UCLH Charity hotel called the Cotton Rooms, or occasionally at home, rather than on a ward. Since then, hundreds of young people have received NHS cancer treatment via Ambulatory Care. Their treatment would usually require inpatient admission at other UK hospitals.

Sense of our selves exhibits photographs that were taken by young people as part of a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) funded project that explored experiences of Ambulatory Care. Eighteen young people, aged 16-24 years, took a series of mobile phone images of aspects of day-to-day life in Ambulatory Care. This exhibition presents a small selection of these photographs.

 In Ambulatory Care, much of daily life takes place hidden from the healthcare team; this emerged as important to young people. They said the very fact that they were not continually observed, or on show, was one of the main things that they valued about the service. We heard how Ambulatory Care enabled young people to integrate cancer around their lives, rather than being defined by it.

Young people who took part in this research discussed the images they took with a peer interviewer. This exhibition, Sense of our selves shares some of the themes that were identified in the research. The images, when viewed together with text from accompanying interviews, offer hidden reflections, whilst at the same time perhaps revising perceptions of cancer treatment. Sense of our selves has been curated by Nella Pignatelli, Kristy Wang and Alison Finch from the Teenage and Young Adult cancer community, who have been involved in this research, with additional support from Thomas S.G. Farnetti, Senior Photographer at Wellcome.

If you would like to learn more about this project please contact:
Alison Finch

Hidden Reflections

In one morning in October 2021 a group of young people with a diagnosis of cancer took part in a photography project and created these images. The workshop was led by Grace Gelder, a photographer and educator, who had designed a series of activities that would invite fun and creativity and encourage both individual reflection and teamwork. The hybrid nature of the workshop meant that people could join online or in person. The young people who took part regularly volunteer to help us run workshops for other young people with a diagnosis of cancer, and this event was arranged to thank them for their time and input.

The young people used their smartphones to take a series of self-portraits with different limitations: hiding their identity, using props to represent themselves, including reflections and working with other people to construct self-portraits that might be difficult to create alone. They also experimented with being a director and being directed, both in pairs and in large groups. They had a lot of fun directing a group of participants in a range of constellations.

If you would like to learn more about this project please contact:
Sara Portnoy, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

This project was made possible thank to funding from the Friends of UCLH

UCLH arts and heritage serves UCLH NHS Foundation Trust and its surrounding community and is funded entirely by charitable donations. The UCLH arts and heritage programme is committed to providing a welcoming, uplifting environment for all patients, visitors and staff. Its work aims to improve the patient experience, boost staff morale, increase engagement with the arts and celebrate the Trust’s unique heritage and community.