Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Meanderings of a Male Advocacy volunteer

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In the second of two blogs from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, produced for and published by BIG Lottery Fund last week, we hear from Bob Smith, a volunteer cancer advocate.

Bob Smith

recent report funded by the Big Lottery Fund revealed that men over 50 have a tendency to volunteer less than women of the same age. I think there are a number of reasons for this; for example, one is the fact that more men than women over the age of 50 tend to still be working, and therefore have less time available than their female counterparts. Also, many within this age group were brought up in an era when volunteering was seen as more of a woman’s domain; thank heavens this is no longer the case!

Volunteering can be so rewarding for those who give their time freely. We all have experiences, talents, and skills that can be used for the benefit of others. None of us know when we may need the help of others and it’s great to play our part whilst we can.

I have generally tried to help others if I have the opportunity but never more so than since I contracted cancer for the first time in 2007. By 2012 I had had the illness three times, plus a stem cell transplant. I was in remission again and looking for somewhere that I could really make a difference. I heard that a new project providing one-to-one advocacy support for older people affected by cancer was looking for recruits  so I applied along with my wife, Maddy, and we were both accepted.

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Being a volunteer advocate enables me to use my experiences to help others struggling with their cancer journey. A diagnosis is devastating to the patient, their loved ones, and their friends. Any of these people might need help and support. Having someone who is supportive, impartial, and empathetic (not just sympathetic) can be invaluable, and this can be especially relevant to the older person.

Advocacy doesn’t just benefit the person affected by cancer; I have learnt so much about how to support people with so many different needs. Each of my advocacy partners has been different and taught me so much. They have ranged from very positive to depressed and helpless to very capable, but all in need of someone to confide in.

Being a male advocate will obviously involve supporting men and women partners. However, certain types of cancer are very personal to a man (as are some to a woman). Having male volunteers also adds a different dimension to the advocacy;. a man affected by cancer might- open up more to another man as they will have had similar life experiences and views. Some say they can treat you more as ‘an impartial brother’.

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I would very much recommend that other men who have had experience of cancer volunteer as advocates. The emotional rewards are enormous and it’s a real blessing to be able to help others using the first-hand knowledge you have. I have every intention to carry on as an advocate and am finding new ways to help cancer patients in other ways as well. Cancer advocacy is the most important volunteer role I’ve had to date.

Dorset Macmillan Advocacy are parallel partners in Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPAAL)’s Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project which is funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Silver Dreams programme.

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Author: Marie McWilliams

OPAAL's National Development Officer

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