The Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme has at its heart the relationship between two human beings: between an advocate and their partner. In Bristol we are finding it an ongoing challenge to recruit volunteer peer advocates, with many people approaching us to enquire but very few continuing on to do the training required and offering the long-term commitment older people affected by cancer need when they are partnered with a peer-advocate. In order to try and address this we have produced a new leaflet that concentrates just on the volunteering aspect of the project – you can see a picture of this below – with a separate leaflet advertising the service to potential clients. We have already seen an increase in potential volunteers contacting us in the two months that we have been distributing this new piece of publicity.
Despite the ongoing challenges of finding suitable volunteer peer advocates we have continued to offer an incredibly supportive service to those older people affected by cancer who have approached us for help, through the efforts of our paid advocacy worker, and that is what I want to concentrate on for the rest of this blog. Our referrals have come from a wide range of sources, including the local authority, health centres & GPs, and other voluntary agencies. Some of the most complex cases we have picked up have come from agencies that have done a certain amount of work with an individual, but have felt that longer-term, more in-depth support is needed. Our paid advocate has been working with one such individual for the last three months.
Christina (not her real name) had been being supported by another voluntary organisation, but when they reached the limits of their service they were anxious that Christina would not be abandoned to fend for herself. Christina’s diagnosis of lung cancer has been complicated by her status in the UK – despite living here for decades she is in immigration ‘limbo’, with her case being held by the Home Office for many years, despite the best efforts of a solicitor to resolve the issue. This meant that as well as the emotional and medical issues she was facing following her diagnosis she also faced extreme financial and practical pressures that are not normally encountered by most older people affected by cancer. While our advocate clearly couldn’t intervene in the legal aspects of her situation she was able to work with Christina on many of the practical issues she faced, helping her to secure ongoing access to food and nutrition, and with assistance from another charity, helping Christina to secure new clothing, as most of what she had was no longer good enough to wear. By accompanying Christina to meetings with these other sources of support the paid advocate was able to help Christina make some small but practical changes to her day-to-day life that have left her much better able to deal with the medical side of her current situation.
The trust and mutual respect that has grown during this work has set this advocacy partnership off to a very strong start, with Christina knowing that the advocate will be there whenever she needs her, giving her greater strength to face her ongoing challenges knowing she isn’t facing them alone. As always, it is the quality of this relationship between advocate and partner that is key, and that continues to give the Cancer Older People and Advocacy programme its undoubted strength.
Ben Sansum, AgeUK Bristol, April 2015