Dr Danny Douglass is celebrating after reaching the finishing line of his studies into alternative sports, having undergone cancer treatment during his PhD research.
The sport and exercise lecturer in the University’s School of Health & Life Sciences spent nine years completing his doctorate, which included time spent undergoing treatment for testicular cancer.
Dr Douglass, 32, said: “The whole thing took nine years to complete, which includes the year I was having cancer treatment and then the six months catching up when I returned.
“Raising awareness of testicular cancer is definitely a key concern of mine, as many of my friends and worryingly, many of the students I have taught, barely consider it. The age for risk is 17 to 34, which aligns with the majority of the student population.”
Dr Douglass, from Billingham, said: “I chose Teesside initially for my undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Coaching Science because of the variety and flexibility within the course structure which allowed me to discover multiple aspects of sport science, while enabling me to tailor my studies to my own interests.
“After my degree, I continued to study at Teesside University for my Master’s and PhD mainly because of my supervisors and the potential they saw within my work within skateboarding. Although popular, alternative sports don’t receive a lot of academic focus. However, the academic staff at Teesside could see the potential.”
His PhD investigated the effect of potential personal threat or severe injury within skill acquisition. His findings provided evidence which suggests high-risk athletes view their learning very differently to the mainstream.
Dr Douglass said: “It involved an initial study exploring the thought process of athletes from various high and low risk sports during performance. We had 864 participants in total, a figure we never dreamed we would get. Three intervention studies were also carried out, exploring the effects of different coaching strategies within novice, experienced and professional skateboarders.”
He added: “I am still in five year remission and have scans and blood tests periodically, leading up to February 2021. I deferred my studies while undergoing treatment on the advice of my supervisors as they knew the toll this treatment would take both physically and mentally. They understood my health was the priority and supported me throughout.”
Contemplating on how he managed his studies while working as a part-time lecturer, all while undergoing cancer treatment, he said: “You learn to balance your time. The staff I work with produce a team effort and there is always a way around time constraints.
“Teaching whilst studying was very beneficial. You see the learning process from both sides of the coin, which ultimately makes you better on both as you understand the expectations from either side.”
He is now keen to raise awareness of testicular cancer, saying: “It is one of the easiest to notice if something is odd at an early stage, yet there is a sense of ignorance around it within a young populous. Cancer is something you know happens to other people, but you don’t think it could happen to you.
“At my time of diagnosis, I was the healthiest I had been, had a good diet, didn’t drink or smoke and was running and exercising eight times a week. I was at stage three, confirming it had spread to my stomach lymph nodes, lungs and brain, all before I noticed something was wrong.
“Getting checked out is the best thing you can do if you notice something. You either get told there is nothing wrong, or you find a problem and start on the solution.”
Dr Douglass is now preparing to take part in a four-day marathon event at Walt Disney World in Florida in aid of cancer research. The event in January 2021, which will mark the end of his remission, involves a 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon.