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Blog: Breaking the ice

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Liz Darlison takes us through her first day on the Cancer Leadership Programme

Barnett Hill, where the course is being held, is a striking Queen Anne-style mansion set in 26 acres of stunning landscaped gardens and woodlands, just outside Guildford.

The driveway up to the house reminded me of Brideshead Revisited or some other similar period drama. The gravel crunched with style as I wound my way up the immense drive and into the car park where I parked my seven-seater family van in between various snazzy sports cars and saloons.

The module officially kicked off at 11am with programme director Sarah Lister welcoming us all and introducing the plan for the next two days. Our ice-breaker was to introduce ourselves to the group, showing everyone an item that was on our person that says something about us. I opted for one of five or six lipsticks I had in my handbag – ‘I’m a lipstick fiend,’ I confessed.

We were sat in groups of 4-6; there were thirteen of us in total. The seating plan had been prearranged and we were told that the person sitting next to us would be our buddy for the duration of the programme. My buddy therefore was Jeannie Dyer, complementary therapy team leader from the Royal Marsden (RMH).

To further our introduction, each table was asked to put together a group CV. My group was all female, over 39 and had a string of qualifications between us. Previous jobs included trolley dolly, clerk, psyche technician, speech therapist, Territorial Army soldier and typist.

We had six children and two grandchildren between us. Feedback from the session was really funny. Some of the previous employment and odd experiences around the room that emerged were priceless, and it was clear we were all quite similar. It got us all chatting and added a very important level of transparency to the group without exposing individuals. I was in good company and consequently began to feel a little more at ease.

‘I desperately want to generate some evidenced-based theory within nursing and mesothelioma’

Our next exercise started our voyage of discovery. We had to prepare a personal shield. The shield had 4 sections. In section one we had to diagrammatically explain where we consider ourselves to be professionally, and in section two where we would like to be in the future. Section three and four were for our personal presents and futures. My overriding professional deficit is to balance theory and practice. I desperately want to generate some evidenced-based theory within nursing and mesothelioma.

Personally, I want to keep the work/life balance in order and focus on my three children as they move from childhood to adulthood, through their exams and career choices. I want to help them get the most out of their teenage years. I also declared that I want to lose weight - a stone would do. I thought saying it out loud to witnesses might improve my motivation and efforts. Our final exercise of the morning required us to summarise our shield in a letter to the future, explaining to the future what we hoped it would be.

After a scrumptious lunch the afternoon sessions were very practical. We learnt about SCaNaR, the online, interactive blackboard facility used by RMH. We heard about the Leadership Effectiveness Analysis (LEA) process. We would be required to identify 10 or 11 colleagues to complete a questionnaire about us. We too would complete the questionnaire and all the responses would be analysed collectively. During the next module we would receive our personal feedback.

The final exercise of the first module focused on the Cancer Reform Strategy. In pairs we were allocated one chapter to summarise and feed back to the group in a five-minute presentation the next day. Kate Hall (Clinical Services Manager, Private Practice at RMH) and I were allocated the cancer prevention chapter. On a flipchart poster we devised and acronym (S.A.D.A.S.) to simplify the content of the chapter.

S – Smoking (cessation)
A – Activity (encouraging exercise)
D – Diet (5 portions a day etc)
A – Alcohol (sensible drinking)
S – Sunlight (protection against the sun)

Good isn’t it?

So that was the end of day one, well the formal part anyway.

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