Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

If the news is really bad, he will be there to help me get through it

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This is why our Cancer Older People and Advocacy Programme matters so much:

Our volunteer peer advocates have been supporting people like Ron: “When the letter came, it said I should take somebody with me. The problem is that I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask them to go with me.

I should have realised that I was going to get some bad news by the fact that they did suggest I didn’t go alone. Anyway, I did go alone and yet despite the clues, I was really shocked that I was told that I had prostate cancer. I went numb and my brain stopped working. It was all in a haze.

Later on I couldn’t remember anything that the consultant said to me. I know I was given a lot of leaflets because I had them when I got to the car. I don’t remember driving home at all. I felt a great sense of confusion, apprehension and got very depressed very quickly. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the leaflets that I was given because the whole idea of having cancer was terrifying and I had this idea that if I didn’t look at them, it may go away. Stupid when I look back.

I couldn’t even decide if I wanted to tell my children about my illness. I can’t really tell you why I felt like that. It may be I didn’t want to bother them, or maybe I was trying not to confirm the fact in my own mind. I was frozen and unable to do anything. I did come across somebody who knew about the cancer advocacy services. They gave me the leaflet and I called for help.

A volunteer advocate called David came along to see me at home. I got on very well with him from the start. He assured me that all the things that we would talk about would be confidential, which was still important to me at that time.

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David was a really good listener and I was able to tell him my story very easily and without any difficulties. He had had an operation for cancer himself and was undergoing observation still. We talked for a long time in that first meeting and the longer it went on the more relaxed I began to feel. I was still worried of course but my brain seemed to be starting to think again.

One of the things that David and I decided to do on his second visit was to put together a list of questions that I should ask the doctor at my next appointment. I realised that I didn’t know anything at all about my illness and any treatment that might be proposed. David offered to go along with me to that appointment and I quickly agreed. I knew that I would probably not ask the questions or remember the answers if I went alone.

In the meanwhile we went through the leaflets that the Consultant had given me and together we got the picture of exactly what it was that I was suffering from and what might be done to help me. At our next meeting I had moved along far enough to tell David that I hadn’t told my daughter and son about my diagnosis. We talked and I decided that I wouldn’t tell them yet as I wouldn’t be able to answer the questions that they would have for me.

David and I started to look at possible sources of care that I may need. We also looked at various ways that I might be able to make myself more financially secure, or viable, as I was then starting to worry about money. I don’t know why at 72 years old. He found me the address of various places that offered advice and then helped me write a letter. I don’t have any answers yet but that at least has started that ball rolling.

David came along to the meeting with the Doctor and it was good that he did. Along with the trauma of all that I had been told, I have to confess that my memory has begun to fail me as well. That’s been happening for a few years. David was able to take notes and ask the questions that I was missing on my list. The Doctor was very good as well and he was very patient with me.

I look forward to David coming around or telephoning me. I know he will be there when I need to go to the consultant again, which is coming soon, when he tells me what is going to happen. I will not have to go to another appointment alone. If the news is really bad, he will be there to help me get through it. If it’s a matter of describing treatments, he will be able to ask the right questions and then tell me all about it when we get home.”

Cancer can touch every aspect of our lives. Some issues are resolved easily such as access to benefits or transport arrangements others are complex and take much more time.

All of our volunteer peer advocates take time to build that all important trusting relationship which enables the older person to confide worries and concerns. It is this trust that forms the basis of the relationship, our advocates understand the impact of a cancer diagnosis on the individual and are able to address worries and concerns with skill and sensitivity. That’s why our service is so different from every other. Our volunteer peer advocates really do have the gift of time.

You can read more stories like Ron’s in our publication Every Step of the Way which can be accessed here

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL

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Author: Marie McWilliams

OPAAL's National Development Officer

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