Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Emotional exhaustion

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I’ve just watched the BBC One programme The Big C & Me. I didn’t watch it because I wanted to rather I watched it because I felt I should. As the mother of a now 25 year old son diagnosed with secondary cancer almost 18  months ago I now realise that I have been actively avoiding programmes, books and articles about cancer.

Now that’s a bit ironic when I do the job I do and which currently is heavily focused on advocacy for older people affected by cancer. Personally, I call it self-preservation.

Well, watch the Big C & Me I did. It tells stories of real people affected by cancer. It has happy moments and deeply sad moments and this is only episode one. It’s narrated by the BBC’s own Victoria Derbyshire who was diagnosed with breast cancer last July and who filmed her own breast cancer diary.

While watching the programme it really hit home to me where our peer volunteer advocates make the biggest difference when supporting other older people affected by cancer. It’s because they’ve been there, done that and have the t-shirt. As I watched Yvette, one of the three people featured in the programme, receive bad news I relived that moment when my son received his traumatic news. I know all too well that heave in the pit of your stomach. Our peer advocates know that heave too. They understand the absolute emotional exhaustion that can take hold at any point in the long haul of living with cancer.

Our wonderful medical staff treat those diagnosed with all the tools available to them. However, unless they’ve actually been on the receiving end of a diagnosis they can’t fully comprehend the impact. Our advocates can and that’s what makes the support they provide so unique. It’s that understanding which nurtures the supporting and empowering advocacy relationship.

One issue raised in last night’s episode of the Big C & Me was about how those affected by cancer don’t want sympathy. Ideally, they don’t want friends and acquaintances to treat them any differently than before. With that in mind the BBC and the Open University have produced a booklet entitled The Big C: Making a difference for people living with cancer. To find out more and to order a copy of the leaflet click here

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The Open University is also running a discussion hub “What is helpful for someone undergoing treatment for cancer: Which little kindnesses can you employ to help someone who is undergoing treatment for cancer and their families?” You can join the discussion forum here to have your say.

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL

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Author: Marie McWilliams

OPAAL's National Development Officer

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