I’ve written before for the blog about how last Christmas Eve I suddenly found myself an older person affected by cancer when my 23 year old son was diagnosed with advanced cancer.
As the time has passed and he has moved from one treatment regime to the next and to the next I’ve come more and more to realise that this cancer lark isn’t something that gets dealt with quickly and passes out of your life. It’s no sprint. It’s an everyday reality that’s with you from the minute you wake up in the morning to the minute you (try to) sleep at night, day after day, month after month. Soon, for us it’ll be a year. A year as a family we’d like to forget.
In that time we’ve come across so many fabulous, dedicated NHS staff. They work 12 hour shifts without batting an eye, they look after you body and soul, they don’t forget that the patient’s family are as traumatised as the patient. We’ve come to know than the NHS’s best resource is its people.
As this marathon goes on for us I realise more and more that we’re not in it by ourselves. The support we have from family and friends can be humbling at times. They go well out of their way to do something because it may help. The little things, like taking the washing away and bringing it back clean and ironed, when you’re 180 miles from home, that’s a big help. Things like travelling 240 miles each way to visit for an hour because you’ve heard the news, those make you realise how good people intrinsically are.
Whilst all of this is going on I constantly remind myself of how lucky we are. I’ve always been a glass half full kind of person, trying to look on the bright side. This whole cancer experience so far has been horrendous but at the same time it has been inspirational. I have a fabulous relationship with my son with whom I’ve spent countless hours chatting at all times of the day and night; I look forward to seeing my daughter and my husband, the time I spend with them is precious. Being so far away from home for long spells, I look forward with so much anticipation to seeing them walk through the door.
I appreciate the fact that I have a fabulous support network around me. I also know that I’ve been acting as my son’s advocate, ensuring that when he has needed it I’ve been putting his point across and explained things to him that he may not have taken in the first or even the second time he has been told because of the effects of his treatment. Our trusty notebook is full of notes taken at every consultation. It gets filled with the questions he wants to ask, then the answers he receives so we can always refer back.
The older people affected by cancer that we support in our advocacy work may not be so lucky. Many don’t have close family and friends and even those who do may choose not to share their feelings and concerns with those they love most. Some may have family but they may be many miles away. All of that makes me more convinced than ever that the work we do in recruiting, training and supporting older people affected by cancer to provide peer advocacy for other older people like themselves is vital. The pressures on everyday life brought on by a cancer diagnosis are immense and every day our advocates provide support that makes a real and tangible difference. Long may it continue and develop.
Marie McWilliams, OPAAL National Development Officer