Jean Gallagher, with husband Jim

'I carried on with research for my dying friend'

Date: 02 November 2018

As a former nurse, Jean Gallagher often had cause to think about research - but had nowhere to take her ideas.

“I was a nurse on a genitourinary ward, where I saw three men at the same time who were school caretakers. All of them had bladder cancer, and I remember wondering: is that just coincidence?” she said.

While there is nothing to suggest that being a school caretaker means one is at greater risk of bladder cancer, the anecdote indicates that Jean was already seeing patterns that she felt merited further investigation.

“There just wasn’t a way for me to explore that link when I was nursing,” Jean said. “You just treated the condition and made the people as comfortable as you could.”

Jean, who lives in Bingley with husband Jim, a former handyman, had a varied career working in healthcare. As well as being a nurse at Bradford Royal Infirmary - she qualified in 1970 - she has worked as a community nurse in Bradford and Airedale, qualified as a midwife in 1989, been a lecturer in Health and Social Care at a further education college in Keighley and a nurse advisor based in Wakefield for NHS Direct (which has now been succeeded by NHS 111).

Now, Jean is making up for lost time by immersing herself in research, often through the mechanism of the NIHR.

She sat for four years on the NIHR Health Technology Assessment Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health panel, reviewing research applications, and has also helped to design research projects as a co-applicant. Studies she has co-designed include BladderPath and TIME4PallCare, among others.

Jean has also been a lay member of the Institute for Cancer Research’s Bladder clinical studies group (CSG) for five years, and for the last two years has also sat on the Supportive and Palliative Care CSG at the same organisation.   

Jean retired in 2009 but received a bombshell later that year when she was diagnosed with cancer.

At a support group, she met a friend who was battling myeloma. Jean explained: “When she was dying she asked me to carry on [being involved in research]. To do it for her. And I promised that I’d do my bit to try to improve things for patients in the future.”

Jean is a research advocate for St Gemma’s Hospice based in Leeds and is one of the stars of a new NIHR-produced video on the research taking place at St Gemma’s. In the video, released for World Hospice and Palliative Care Day on 13 October, she said: “If we as patients and carers can influence care and treatments in the future, we might benefit, but more so our families and other people will benefit from understanding more about whatever disease it is and about the process of recovery or end-of-life. If we can make that process better, then it isn’t just the patients, but it’s those that are left behind as well that have much better memories of that time.

“We need people who have real lives so that the research that’s done is relevant to everyone, across the board.”

  • Summary:
    Research participant Jean Gallagher, has special reason for being involved in the design of research studies.
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