Tailored Treatments for Cancer, 2019-2021

(Themes: cancer, genomics, personalised medicine, professional, patient and carer perspectives)



Introduction from Prof. Sarah Cunningham-Burley
Cancer and Society in the 21st Century
Tailored Treatments for Cancer: Tales of Research and Care (Graphic Novel)
.  Meet the Tailored Treatments Graphic Novel Illustrator
Tailored Treatments for Cancer: Tell Your Story (Virtual Workshop)
.  Meet the Virtual Workshop Team
Co-production and Co-delivery



Introduction from Prof. Sarah Cunningham-Burley



I was sitting in a circle with people affected by cancer and fellow researchers, as Ravi from Ziggy’s Wish held the engagement meeting we’d all come along to. We were discussing the proposed characters for the graphic novel – their stories and backstories, what felt authentic or what didn’t, how the ideas reflected our study and how they resonated with those in the room who themselves had lived experienced of personalised cancer medicine. It was very inspiring, hearing the narrative develop… but it was also very emotional, in a restrained but deeply felt way.

I thought more about that over the next few days, trying to put my finger on what exactly it was about the meeting that had been so quietly powerful. I came to the conclusion that working with Ziggy’s Wish, in that room on that day, had simply made our work feel more human.


Cancer and Society in the 21st Century


In July 2019 we were approached by the Cancer and Society in the 21st Century project (CancerandSoc21C): a collaborative research project being carried out by the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, the University of Leeds and the University of Glasgow’s School of Social & Political Sciences; and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Conducted by the universities’ leading sociologists of health, illness and medicine, along with their wider team of researchers, the five-year-long CancerandSoc21C project looks at how rapid developments in personalised cancer medicine are changing what it’s like to be a cancer patient

With the project drawing to a close in 2020, the team decided to bid for additional funding for a dedicated public engagement project, to allow their findings to be shared more generally and more widely.

So they reached out to Ziggy’s Wish.

Through the summer and autumn of 2019 we worked closely with the CancerandSoc21C team, helping them to shape both their ideas and the funding bid. We were delighted when the team was awarded a ScotPEN Wellcome Engagement Award in early 2020 for the project Tailored Treatments, and began work straightaway on this wonderful, complex and challenging commission.



Tailored Treatments for Cancer:

Tales of Research and Care (Graphic Novel)


The first part of the commission was to create a graphic novel accompaniment to the CancerandSoc21C project’s main academic text: Personalising Cancer Medicine: Future crafting in the genomic era. The team interviewed hundreds of people over the five years of their study – cancer patients, their families, scientists, healthcare professionals, members of the wider public – and also observed work undertaken at cancer research centres and in clinics.

The amount of findings from this was vast, and the sheer scope of perspective and opinion was huge. We delved into the research and began the process of figuring out how to marry this rich complexity with the realities of the Tailored Treatments bid parameters. With just months to deliver the graphic novel, we drew on a host of storytelling disciplines as well as the innovative approach to narrative that is the signature of Ziggy’s Wish. Whilst it would have been impossible to represent the multitude of experiences had by every single one of the interviewees, we nevertheless wanted to capture as much as we possibly could, and give genuine voice to the discussion.

Engagement meetings (both physical and virtual) with Experts by Experience were crucial to how we developed our characters, so that each could be simultaneously believable and also a composite vehicle through which to explore the many varied issues. We then used thematic and ‘blind’ scripting processes to distil out the series of conversation areas that would become our chapters, and to build our characters’ dialogue.

It was important that we emphasise the ‘emotional’ side of personalised cancer medicine against the ‘clinical’ backdrop of its development. As the dialogue necessarily had to convey a lot of information, we designed the graphic novel visuals to expressly support this emotional/clinical contrast. Using a more theatrical approach, we modelled a cool, clean, fixed 3D set within which our vibrant and colourful characters could play out their conversations. This solution also helped us to maximize our delivery with the limited timeframe.

The Tailored Treatments for Cancer: Tales of Research and Care graphic novel aims to support the CancerandSoc21C project in encouraging honest and timely debate around the pros and cons of personalised cancer medicine. The CancerandSoc21C project seeks to ensure this much vaunted field develops responsibly, and genuinely improves the care that cancer patients receive at all stages of their experience.



You can download the free digital PDF of the Tailored Treatments for Cancer: Tales of Research and Care graphic novel here:


And/or visit the dedicated Tailored Treatments website.


Meet the Tailored Treatments Graphic Novel Illustrator


Rhiana Jade. Rhiana is a qualified Art Therapist with a Masters degree in Creative Industries. She is a passionate advocate for creativity as a pathway to health and wellbeing; and brings a unique skillset to creative projects, drawing on her experience in the fields of acting, illustration, education and Art Therapy. Her interests include mythology, storytelling, meditation, social and emotional learning, parenting and connection to nature.

Our interview with Rhiana:

How has it been, working on the Tailored Treatments graphic novel?

It’s been very thought provoking, and also a huge challenge because of the scope of work in the timeframe. It felt vast to begin with, but I’ve worked closely with Ravi from the start and that’s helped because we’ve found our way forwards together, marrying emotion with practicality the whole way through.

Like the set. We talked about the design, then I modelled it, which meant Ravi could imagine where the characters’ conversations would take place, and feed that into the script. At the same time, Ravi’s detailed backstories for each character helped me to develop their look, which again helped Ravi to visualise the characters’ feelings and find their voices.

It’s a beautiful and distinct artistic style that you’ve brought to the project. Tell us a little bit more about where that comes from?

Well we didn’t want the graphic novel to be cartoon-like. Instead we wanted to emphasise that the CancerandSoc21C research is a reality. It’s one of the reasons Ravi brought me in – because of the way I like to bring storytelling together with a fullness of meaning; representing meaningful moments in meaningful ways.

I think that’s a culmination of all the different learning experiences I’ve had and the environments I’ve inhabited. My early work in the acting industry taught me to inhabit characters physically, their expressions and postures… my work as an artist and designer allows me to channel that through my hand into the characters on the page… and my role as an art therapist focuses me on empathy.

How important do you think that focus on empathy is?

I think it’s a really crucial aspect. We’ve taken a lot of care to encourage empathy in several ways, and in several places throughout the graphic novel. For example there’s a particular scene between Charlie and Niles where I added a subtle use of ‘mirroring’, which is an art-therapy-session technique, to highlight empathy in the characters.


It’s a demanding project. How do you keep up the momentum without losing energy?

Actually it’s really important to find a balance. With this narrative there’s a lot to think about. It’s very emotive. It makes you think about the people in your own life… and I admit that I choked up a bit whilst storyboarding one of the later scenes…

But I have ways to break up the process. I let myself play with my drawings when I need to. It’s nice sometimes to just hang out with the characters for fun.



Tailored Treatments for Cancer:

Tell Your Story (Virtual Workshop)


The second part of the commission was to deliver a workshop that would build on the graphic novel and allow participants to create graphic short stories of their own.

Originally we planned to deliver this as a physical workshop, however, as with so many other things in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic meant we had to reimagine our ideas into a virtual space.

Held on 7th November 2020, the Tailored Treatments for Cancer: Tell Your Story virtual workshop was an intimate and enriching event for participants, guided by specialist narrative facilitators in highly supportive spaces. Where the graphic novel captures a collective discussion, the workshop allowed individuals to express their own, unique experiences; and resulted in twelve extraordinary, varied and powerful cancer-patient-created and cancer-researcher-created comics.




To read the complete Tailored Treatments for Cancer: Tell Your Story graphic short stories, visit the dedicated Tailored Treatments website.


Meet the Tailored Treatments Virtual Workshop Team

Amy Hailwood. Amy is a theatre director and Applied Theatre facilitator who has directed work for the Royal Exchange ManchesterOctagon Theatre, and Bush Theatre London, among others. She is inspired by the power of art to spark transformative conversations about important social issues, and brings experience in the fields of cultural studies, conflict transformation, community education and activism to her work. Whether working with actors, or participants in a creative project, her focus is on empowering diverse individuals to discover and release their own unique voice.


Matt Badham. Currently in training as a counsellor, Matt has worked in community theatre, social services and education. He has also written on comics for the Judge Dredd Megazine, the Big Issue in the North, Comic Heroes and websites such as downthetubes and the Forbidden Planet International blog. This writing has taken in everything from the British small-press and self-published comics scene to documentary comics and superhero stories (in various media). He has scripted comic strips for 2000 AD, Commando Picture Library and Futurequake.


Ravi Thornton. Ravi is a multi-award-winning writer, and founder of Ziggy’s Wish. She is keenly interested in narrative environments and audience psychologies, and is involved in extensive exploration of storytelling across multiple platforms. As regular lead on large-scale, multi-disciplinary projects that seek to increase public engagement with challenging topics, Ravi is an active advocate of collaboration, dependability and trust.


John Grey. John is a Manchester-based freelance filmmaker with production credits in Television, Music Video, Commercial, Short Film, and Feature Film. In recent years John has put an emphasis on narrative fiction work and arts documentaries, covering events and projects nationally and internationally. Additionally, John leads on the BFI Film Academy at HOME in Manchester which takes young people through a comprehensive series of filmmaking workshops.


Rick Redfern. Combining his deep love of theatre with 20 years’ experience in the engineering and industrial sector, Rick brings operational, logistical and technical support to projects, as well as a highly attuned dramaturgical ear. He is passionate about the arts and their place in the human conversation, and believes storytelling is where we find our deepest, darkest and brightest truths.


Blue Bell-Bhuiyan. Based in Washington D.C., Blue is a product owner with experience in digital transformation in the non-profit, creative and education sectors. They are interested in the areas where data, digital innovation, and meaningful stories interact. They are also a skilled writer with features in The Skinny, Time Out, Press Gazette and more. They are most likely to be found in warm places, tucked in a quiet nook with a book.


Chris Calcott. Chris is an immersive storytelling enthusiast, with a particular interest in Virtual Reality and how this technology shapes the way people create and have experiences. He brings senior experience in training facilitation, staff wellbeing and stakeholder management to the table, and enjoys transferring corporate practice into more creative concepts. Chris is also an accomplished recording and touring musician, as well as an avid mountain biker.


Stephanie Sinclair. Steph works as Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange Co-ordinator at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh. She supports the researchers at the Centre to engage with different audiences, for example at festivals and creative workshops. She has previously worked at the Wellcome Trust leading on education and engagement projects.



Co-production and Co-delivery


Core to the original ScotPEN Wellcome Engagement Award was its requirement that the project contained some element of co-production as part of it. At Ziggy’s Wish, however, we don’t need this to be a funder requirement. We actively advocate for co-production, extending this to co-delivery wherever we can.



For the Tailored Treatments project we were privileged to work directly with people affected by cancer, and to hear first hand their experiences of personalised cancer medicine. It was their inspiring openness and willingness to share, that allowed us to find the voices of our graphic novel characters, to refine their backstories and ensure their experiences were relatable and authentic. Having their input into our creative process was invaluable, as well as immensely humbling.




We’ve also worked closely with the CancerandSoc21C team themselves, throughout the graphic novel development and particularly around the Tailored Treatments virtual workshop to ensure a true collaboration. We’re delighted to have co-opted CancerandSoc21C’s Public Engagement Coordinator, Steph Sinclair, into the Ziggy’s Wish workshop team for the duration; leading to in-depth knowledge share, skills development, and the organic fostering of a warm, inclusive environment.