Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Meeting our Volunteer Advocates

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Between July and August this year I travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting our volunteer advocates. I was visiting our cancer support projects with the aim of evaluating the volunteer experience. We do have eternal evaluators who have been busy all summer long interviewing a wide range of project stakeholders, however I myself like to conduct some internal evaluation particularly of our volunteers, as this gives me a rare opportunity to thank them in person for the invaluable work they do supporting older people affected by cancer.

The first thing I have to say was that it was a truly humbling experience for me. I spoke with Tom, Evelyn and Anne from Gateshead; Richard, Pauline and Janet from Dorchester; Maddie, Marion and Bob from Bournemouth; Helen from Sefton and finally Pauline and Yvonne from Stoke on Trent. Without exception I was immediately struck by the genuine warmth of these people, their desire to help and offer support to others in similar situations to those in which they had found themselves earlier in their lives shone through. When I asked how they came to volunteer all had a uniquely personal and moving tale to tell. These stories mostly focussed around their experience of cancer, how this had changed their lives and how, upon coming through it they determined to make the lives of others just that bit easier by sharing what they had learned. Volunteers told me “As a cancer patient I see a real need for this project and want to help out with whatever I can do to support this work” and “I believe this project has the potential to benefit a lot of people.” “I have never felt so appreciated in voluntary work as I do here” quote one lady who had volunteered with other projects before.

Kath with volunteer advocates Bob Smith, Marion Summers and Maddy Smith

Kath with volunteer advocates Bob Smith, Marion Summers and Maddy Smith

I asked about how well the volunteers felt equipped to cope with the challenges of supporting older people affected by cancer, without exception volunteers spoke movingly of the tremendous support they receive from their advocacy supervisors stating how they really valued this personal support as it gave them opportunities to explore in depth the ways in which they could help others, and learn from others experience.

One volunteer noted that mainly as a result of the excellent training and support she has received: “I have much more awareness of cancer and its impact on older people and the wide range of services available to support OPABC”.

When describing their voluntary work one person said “It’s always interesting, sometimes challenging, always rewarding, work with lovely people, never pressured, always supported.” whilst another quoted  “I found the role of a volunteer advocate very rewarding though it is not without its challenges. “I enjoy the one to one contact and feeling useful as I’m able to offer emotional support and able to help others to look beyond their present problems”

When we spoke of our volunteers intention to continue to volunteer with the project many people gave moving accounts of why they wish to continue to offer their services, some people are even considering a change of career they have been so motivated by their volunteering experience.

“I would really like to make the move into independent advocacy work as a second career, I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from the training I’ve received and I’m very happy to undertake all other training offered in this area. I am also mindful of the fact that the more experience I get supporting others the more I will learn. I also volunteer for a local Douglas Macmillan Hospice and pick up extra skills and knowledge there.”

“I feel this project is of vital importance to the people of North Staffordshire who meet all the criteria for the services of an advocate. 

“I wish to use my experience as a nurse and cancer patient to help support other people in similar circumstances”. 

“ I retired with a purpose of doing positive things and the hope that it keeps my brain active”.

“I believe this project has the potential to benefit a lot of people.”

“As a cancer patient I see a real need for this project and want to help out with whatever I can do to support this work”

“I want to continue this role, work more with both patients and carer’s as I feel there is not enough support for carer’s sometimes I feel they have different support needs than patients” 

I should like to publically record my thanks and those of our partner organisations to our wonderful volunteers without whom we would not be able to offer the much valued advocacy support services we offer to older people affected by cancer, most of whom could not find this support from elsewhere.

My report Volunteering Voices feeds into our project evaluation which will be available to read here during November.

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Author: kathparson

Chief Executive of Older People's Advocacy Alliance (UK)

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