Cancer patient Dominic shows his scars

Meet the OU academics behind The Big C and Me TV series

OU academics are often nominated to work as consultants on Open University TV and radio co-productions which align with their areas of professional expertise. But what does this mean?

They're nominated by their faculty to consult on co-productions and work closely with the programme makers throughout, advising on research topics, commenting on draft scripts, fact checking and providing feedback from an academic perspective from the early cuts through to final sign off.

The nominated academic also works with a team of people at the OU to support the creation of videos, articles, interactives, interviews and free learning materials that support the series via the OpenLearn website.

On selected programmes the OU also produces free booklets or posters, giving further information and learning associated with the topics covered in the TV series.

With the broadcast of The Big C and Me on BBC1, an Open University/BBC co-production, two academics share details about their involvement.



Jan Draper is Professor of Nursing at the OU and Dr Mathijs Lucassen is a Lecturer in Mental Health.

How did you get involved with the booklet supporting the TV series The Big C and Me?

Jan DraperThe vision of the booklet was for us to help people, friends, relatives, the general public - anyone who might be supporting people living with cancer - to support the series. It started with a blank piece of paper and ended with a booklet. It was a great opportunity to add to the series which was filmed following the lives of cancer patients over a period of about 18 months.

Mathijs LucassenWe looked at the cuts and edits of material being developed for the series and provided feedback and then there was the work to produce the booklet. We spoke to people affected by cancer and got some broad ideas and how to put them into the booklet. It was an iterative and evolving process.

How does this project link to your areas of professional expertise and personal experiences?

Mathijs LucassenI’m a lecturer in mental health so I’m interested in the health and wellbeing of people in general. Mental health has a real impact when someone has cancer. But, like most people, I personally know people affected by cancer and found it an enriching experience to combine these experiences and feed them into the booklet.

Jan DraperFor me, it was a mixture of professional knowledge and academic interest interwoven with personal stories and accounts. As Professor of Nursing at the OU, I’m not an expert in cancer or palliative care although I have an interest in supporting people when they’re dealing with these issues. I’ve learned more about the impact cancer can have from my own personal experience, and how families have dealt with that.

What key points should be taken away from the series and accompanying booklet?

Jan DraperThat we can all contribute to making a difference in a constructive and positive way to those living with cancer.


Mathijs LucassenOf course, health-related care is really important but the programme highlights the humanness of it all and the booklet is a way to support that as well. There are things people can do to make a difference, one of the notable things for people living with cancer is they can feel powerless.

Jan DraperWe wanted to make sure the booklet would complement the spirit of the series, and it does that really well. And it was great to learn the inside track about how these programmes are made and that our feedback and ideas helped in the editing process as well.

How does this series link to Open University courses?

Mathijs LucassenThere are lots of courses, two showcased via the booklet – the social work and nursing programmes, and all the modules related to health and social care. There are lots of opportunities to study with the OU and the programme links nicely to an opportunity to go on and learn more.

Jan DraperThere are free bitesize courses on OpenLearn, transforming care short courses about health and social care generally, accredited modules through the various academic levels as well as professional programmes of study. In fact, some of the students and graduates featured in the booklet came from the social work and nursing programmes.

Mathijs LucassenBecause we are a university there are also post grad and PhD opportunities here at the OU related to cancer and health and social care.


'A great way to inform and educate people'

Caroline Ogilvie, broadcast commissioner for the OU, added: “Broadcasting is a great way to inform and educate people about a range of health subjects and our latest series, The Big C and Me gives a useful insight into how people diagnosed with cancer continue to live their lives.

“Programmes examining health issues whether they are concerned with promoting public health, personal stories of those facing challenges to their health or explorations of medical services and technologies resonate with all of us.

“They also provide us with an important opportunity not only in terms of the unique assets they provide for our students, particularly those studying for their BA/BSc (Honours) in Health and Social Care, but also for us to inspire and engage millions of people to find out more and join the conversation about healthcare in the 21st century.”

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