Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

No one should face cancer alone: new TV ad

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Have you seen the new Macmillan Cancer Support TV ad?

M_mid_RGB The message is: No-one should face cancer alone so if you need support of any kind and are not sure where to start or need someone to talk to give Macmillan Cancer Support a call on 0808 808 00 00 Monday to Friday, 9am–8pm or visit macmillan.org.uk.

Macmillan’s helpline makes referrals to our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy service. If someone contacts the helpline and needs advocacy support in an area we currently provide a service in they can be directed to us. Once we’ve had the referral we can provide a volunteer advocate to support you; someone like Yvonne,

Yvonne has a lot of experience of cancer, way too much really. She has lost her husband, mother and brother in law to the disease. That’s why, when she saw a press release about the cancer advocacy service, she felt she had to get involved. She has been involved in the service since it first started and was one of the first volunteers recruited. She hoped to be able to draw on her experience of cancer to inform the support she has been able to offer others in similar situations.

Yvonne isn’t what you’d call a typical volunteer because she doesn’t have a lot of spare time on her hands. She’s in her 50’s, works full time as the deputy head of a school for children with learning disabilities and in some of what little spare time she has she already volunteers at her local hospice. So, Yvonne’s role as a volunteer advocate for older people affected by cancer takes place mostly in the evenings, weekends and during school holidays.

There has been a lot of training. Cancer is a complex and emotional subject and advocacy itself takes a bit of understanding and getting used to. But, as a result of the training she’s done Yvonne feels she has greatly increased her ability to provide support to an older person affected by cancer. She understands that her role is to support and not advise. She really enjoys working with older people and is clear that she’s there to empower the older person to speak for themselves.

Take Mavis for example. Yvonne is Mavis’s advocate. Mavis is 92, lives alone and has blood cancer. Yvonne visits her regularly at weekends to see how she’s doing. Sometimes Mavis doesn’t cope very well, she forgets to take her medication and sometimes forgets to eat. Yvonne provides supports by developing coping strategies for her. Mavis has toyed with the idea of moving into residential care and while she’s keen to remain at home she knows that Yvonne is there to support her whatever she decides.

Yvonne also acts as Sandra’s advocate. Sandra is 77, lives alone and has no family. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer and had an operation in April 2013 followed by radiotherapy. Unfortunately Sandra lost a very close friend at the same time. All of this has left Sandra feeling isolated and unsupported. Yvonne took her to a local cancer support meeting and to the local breast cancer support meeting. Both are held in the evening so Yvonne was able to take her a couple of times until she was used to and felt comfortable there. Yvonne was also able to refer Sandra to a local befriending service to help with her isolation.

Acting as a volunteer cancer advocate has really struck a chord with Yvonne. She’s now looking at opportunities to change career and move into professional advocacy because what she’s been doing makes a real difference to older people’s lives and gives her real satisfaction.

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Author: Marie McWilliams

OPAAL's National Development Officer

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