Delivering cancer rehabilitation physiotherapy programmes in her community is one way Southland dairy farmer, mother and physiotherapist Jocelyn Driscoll can help deliver rural health services. Rebecca Harper reports.

Winton dairy farmer, mum and physiotherapist Jocelyn Driscoll is on a mission to make a difference to the lives of cancer patients in her community.

When Jocelyn first heard about the PINC and Steel cancer rehabilitation programme, she thought it would be an ideal fit with her role as a busy mum and farming partner.

Although she grew up on a sheep and beef farm in the remote and rugged Blackmount area, Southland, Jocelyn has spent 17 years working as a physiotherapist.

‘Tim proposed and we got married about four months later. In that time the farm was converted and, pregnant with our first child, we moved on to the farm. I had this beautiful baby just before we started our first calving.’

She now lives with husband Tim and their four young boys on Tim’s family farm near Winton, central Southland, where they milk 599 cows on a 200-hectare milking platform.

Despite time out to have children, her passion for physiotherapy never waned, and Jocelyn sees a need for better access to health services for rural people. Becoming qualified to deliver PINC and Steel cancer rehabilitation physiotherapy programmes in her community is one way she can help.

Tim and Jocelyn both come from farming backgrounds and the farm has been in the Driscoll family for more than 100 years. Originally a sheep farm, it was converted to dairy and Tim and Jocelyn started their first season milking in 2012.

“Tim’s parents are still on the farm and active with helping. Tim and I bought half the property five years ago – we are owner-operators, we own the business and cows and half of the original home farm. We have also added some land from neighbouring properties,” Jocelyn explains.

“We did things a bit crazy. Tim proposed and we got married about four months later. In that time the farm was converted and, pregnant with our first child, we moved on to the farm. I had this beautiful baby just before we started our first calving.”

Having finished school and headed off to Otago University to study physiotherapy, Jocelyn was working in the hospital when she met Tim. Dairying was a steep learning curve for her.

“I was from a sheep and beef, hilly, extensive farm. We contract milked the first two seasons and I did the bookwork and helped with the calves. John and Carol (Tim’s parents) are amazing and they still do the calves. As I had more children it became harder to be hands-on on farm a lot.

“This is a great place to farm. Incredible soils and we grow great grass. The choice to convert to dairy created more opportunities around farm succession.”

Oldest child Oliver is 6, Nicholas is 4, Michael is 2 and youngest Nathaniel is now just 10 months old and Jocelyn feels the time is right to start establishing her rehabilitation programme, recently taking on her first patient.

Making a difference

Jocelyn always wanted to pursue a career in the health sector, and initially thought she wanted to be a doctor.

“I’d never had to work too hard on the academic side at school to do all right, however at university the common year for medical sciences was very competitive. A physiotherapist wasn’t something I knew a lot about, but once I started studying I quickly realised I would be a far better physio than a doctor.

“You get to be involved with your patients’ lives and help them achieve their goals. I really enjoy that one-on-one time with people.”

After graduating, Jocelyn went on to work in the hospital system, gaining experience in many areas, including mental health and paediatrics.

“I think that gave me an appreciation for knowing when things need to be more seriously looked at, I would say I’m a general practitioner. I enjoy the rehab side and have worked in both public health and private practice over the last 17 years.”

The biggest driver for Jocelyn is encouraging and empowering people to take responsibility for their own health.

“Rather than being the ambulance at the bottom of cliff, sometimes people don’t realise how much they can do for themselves. Engaging with those people and helping them to understand they can make a difference in their own health, I get a kick out of that.”

Finding PINC and Steel

The PINC and Steel programme, which aims to help people regain quality of life after cancer, resounded with Jocelyn.

“A cancer diagnosis can be so overwhelming – the tests, the treatments. Often you see multiple professionals and the focus is all on killing the cancer. Physio is a chance for people to breathe again, talk about themselves, their hopes and dreams, and regain a little control over their health.

“There’s overwhelming evidence to show staying active can help individuals on their cancer journey. By that I don’t mean running marathons, but being able to go for a walk with a friend or even just shower independently. It gives people an element of control back, living as well as possible with cancer.

After having her first two children Jocelyn went back to work part-time, she is also a qualified pilates instructor and has run classes locally over the past 10 years.

Her introduction to PINC and Steel was when several of her clients asked if she would run PINC pilates. “I knew it was something to do with cancer, but not much more.”

Baby number three came along and Jocelyn came across scholarships being offered for rural physiotherapists to become certified in PINC and Steel. The training was online, which was a big plus.

Jocelyn never expected to be successful, but was excited to be offered a scholarship and accepted it – then she found out she was pregnant with her fourth child. Not to be deterred, she completed her PINC certification late last year, had Nathaniel, and then did the Steel certification as well.

“I fell in love with the concept. Like many people, I have family members who have experienced cancer and it was close to my heart. It gave me a way to help make a real difference, which was very exciting.”

Having completed both qualifications and arranged childcare, Jocelyn is just starting to get her PINC and Steel service off the ground.

“We live in a house that also has a three-bedroom flat above the garage, with a large living space perfect for a pilates studio. Small classes are run from the living space.”

One of the bedrooms has now been converted to a treatment room too, allowing her to cater for those patients who require individualised assessments.

Jocelyn’s absolute conviction about the rehab programme and passion for her work is infectious.

“The biggest thing for me is, rurally, there’s a huge need for something like this. I have four kids and a dairy farm business I’m a big part of, but I love physio and didn’t want to let it go either.

“PINC and Steel is not publicly funded and I thought it could be a good fit to keep me doing physio and also give me flexibility around the farm and kids. I see this as a way of really giving back to the community.

“Tim has been incredibly supportive of me doing this, the farm is supporting me in this, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Jocelyn’s next challenge is to start increasing awareness in the region about the service and try to secure some funding.

“Throughout my career as a physio I have had a lot of contact with patients who have either had cancer or are going through cancer, and I know the impact it can have on their life. Before, I didn’t have the knowledge and was probably afraid to help. As I’ve got older, and family members have been touched with it, I now know I can help.

“So many people think they just have to live with the side effects, like no longer being able to drive because they can’t turn their head. Physio can help with that. We can make a huge difference to how they live their life, and the quality of life.”

PINC and Steel

PINC and Steel supports those affected by cancer, through physical rehabilitation, helping them to take their first steps on the road to recovery.

The PINC programme is designed specifically for women, and Steel for men.

Founder Lou James developed the rehab programme and now educates qualified physios around the world.

“One of the things we have fought for is services for rural communities, so it’s great to have local people like Jocelyn are able to support rural communities, because the effects of cancer go on for a long time,” she says.

“Cancer rehab is a new field, people are living for longer, but not as well. The programme is about trying to help people live better. People in rural areas who are affected by cancer often have to travel to bigger centres to have treatment, but afterwards they need to get back to their families or the farm and live their life again.”

Lou says PINC and Steel is a dynamic service and physios like Jocelyn can assess people, find out what they want to achieve and develop a plan around how to rehabilitate them, in order to achieve their goals.

“I first started the programme in 2006, mainly working with women, but soon realised there was a real need for men as well. The name Steel signifies helping them to get their strength back.”

She founded the PINC and Steel Rehabilitation Trust, as there is no funding for cancer rehab in New Zealand, and she could see a real need for the service.

“There’s lots of investment into finding a cure and treating cancer, but a lack of funding for people who have had cancer and are left with the side effects of it.

“A lot of people, once they’ve had cancer, just think that’s their lot and suffer from the side effects. They don’t realise they can seek support and rehabilitation, which could help improve their quality of life.”