Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Pat Wallis – My Cancer Journey and How It Led Me to Volunteer For SPAC

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I was diagnosed with breast cancer 9 years ago and underwent lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

I cannot fault the treatment I received from Southport Hospital, in association with Clatterbridge. The breast cancer specialist nurses were wonderful and very supportive and informative. However the health professionals can only give you so much help, you need the support off others to help you cope.

Entering the world of cancer and going through the treatment pathway you experience a roller coaster ride of emotions. Initially there is the shock of diagnosis, with questions such as how advanced is it? Has it spread? These questions can take time to answer as there are tests to undergo. It is hard to explain to someone how stressful it is waiting for the results and to find out what treatment you will receive. You certainly need the help of someone to go through this with you. At appointments you may hear what is said but not take it in and thus having someone else there, when you see the cancer specialist, can make a significant difference. Once you know the treatment pathway you are going to receive there are many other concerns. If you are going to have chemotherapy you feel very apprehensive. Much of what you hear about chemotherapy tells you how awful it is. You wonder how ill will I feel, am I going to be very sick, will I be able to go out, what will it be like without my hair, will I suit my wig.

Hospitals can be very daunting places, even if you are confident and not afraid. I remember waiting in a cubicle with an unflattering gown on wondering if I had been forgotten. Once you are on treatment you may still have questions to ask the cancer specialist. It helped me to make a list and have someone accompany me to the specialist or my treatment.

Pat Wallis

Pat Wallis

If you are still working there could be financial concerns. You may be off work a long time and may need support in identifying your rights re sick pay and any benefit entitlement. I was fortunate in that the company I worked for paid me full pay throughout but this is not the case for everyone.

When you are on treatment you feel secure, as you are seeing health professionals regularly. However once you have finished treatment you can feel as though you are alone and have to start adapting to life again. However you still have the stress of check-ups and learning to live as a cancer survivor, which can be extremely frightening. Another hurdle you may have to overcome, if you are still working, is your phased back to work and you may need help to explain things to your employer.

My own experience of undergoing cancer treatment was very positive and as I have stated I cannot fault the treatment I received. I tolerated chemotherapy well and it was not an awful experience for me, I only missed going out for one day. When I lost my hair there were some benefits to wearing a wig, no bad hair days and I saved a fortune in shampoo. I was lucky that I had no financial problems. Throughout my treatment and after I was extremely lucky to have a supportive network of family and friends around me. However I recognised that there would be some people without family or friends to support them through the journey.

I decided to volunteer for the Cancer Older People and Advocacy project with Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre as I felt I could use my experience to support others. I recognised that my experience enabled me to support people, with cancer, from a standpoint of understanding the issues and concerns they were experiencing. I know that I could not have managed without the support of my family and friends and therefore understand how important it is to have someone else on your side. Having recognised the difference that support made to me I wanted to be that person for others. I enjoy what I do and the difference it makes. Given the choice to volunteer again I would still make the same decision and would encourage others to think about the positive impact they can have by offering their time to volunteer.

Pat Wallis
Peer Volunteer Advocate
Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre (SPAC)

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Author: kathparson

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

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