Let me tell you about Jake as he told his story to us. A few months earlier he had been told by his cancer doctor/oncologist that his cancer of the pancreas had spread to his lungs. It was not a good prognosis but he suggested one more session of chemotherapy. He had no one to turn to for support except the doctors and nurses on the oncology team but on his way out of the hospital he passed a notice board that had a brochure describing the work of Dorset Cancer Advocacy and took it home with him and later made the call to get help.
On my first visit I found Jake in front of a giant TV screen that dominated his small living room. He told me that he had bought it as a result of his diagnosis a few months earlier. Jake told me that he had no social life and rarely left his home except for shopping and other essential trips. He only had one sister but they had quarrelled over the care of his mother and he hadn’t seen or spoken to her since. At one time he had an active social life and was involved with his church and a local tennis club but had become a recluse. He had one friend who he rarely saw and spoke to and who was unaware of Jake’s condition. Jake was truly alone.
He felt that with advocacy support he would be able to get out more, enjoy outings or clubs around his interests, and meet people in cancer support groups – “The more I get out, the more I’ll improve my health”.
Jake was directed to various social groups but even with encouragement he chose not to participate unless accompanied by someone. Meanwhile his health was deteriorating. The emerging picture was that Jake was in denial about his condition as he was spending large amounts of money to improve his house (new carpets, bathroom, stairlift) so that he could continue to live there. They were disrupting his life and his house was full of items that hadn’t been fitted.
We spoke about further improvements and purchase of equipment and he decided to delay them until he got the latest reports from the oncologist. I went with him on the day of his appointment to receive the news. He was told that the disease had progressed and further treatments were not an option. He would be referred back to the care of his GP. Jake had little to say about this news but bearing in mind his plans for his home I supported him in asking the doctor what the time scale was likely to be and he was told it would probably be a matter of months.
On the way home, Jake repeatedly said “So now we know” and I realised that we were embarking on a different kind of journey. I fixed up a meeting with the palliative care nurse to bring in the necessary support services to keep him at home but before we could implement our plans Jake suddenly became very ill and was admitted to the local hospice where he died a week later.
Fortunately the hospice had a phone number for his solicitor and he had prepared a will with instructions for his funeral. The solicitor contacted me and I told her about Jake’s old friend that he had mentioned at one point. I remembered that a phone number might be found in the house. She was able to contact the friend and I was able to tell him about Jake’s last days. His friend asked me to contact the church to see if they could locate any other of Jake’s friends and acquaintances
So at the funeral I was not, after all, alone. John’s friend was able to come, his solicitor also was there as were two ladies from the church lunch club. It was a sad affair and the vicar made the service brief, pointing out the increasing number of funerals where families are dislocated and friends are predeceased. As Jake’s advocate, I felt that I had played an important role in supporting him not only as he approached death but also afterwards. This was worthwhile for us all.
Janet Lister, Dorset Macmillan Volunteer Advocate