Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Sometimes people say they can manage when they can’t; Sometimes people don’t want to be a bother…

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In today’s post, Tessa tells us about her first experience of being a volunteer advocate:

I am a volunteer McMillan advocate for Help and Care in Bournemouth, part of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy.  It was by chance that I found this position whilst looking on Google for volunteer positions in and around Bournemouth a couple of years ago.

My first client was over eighty, and had been diagnosed shortly before I met her with breast cancer. She needed help organising hospital appointments and support with coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis late in life. 

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Although she had no local relative support and lived alone she had a no nonsense approach to life and a wonderful accepting attitude towards her illness.

As my first partner she was a delight, any nervousness about my role quickly disappeared as she informed me clearly about her needs, moving on quickly to find out about me.  She had the most wonderful stories she wanted to share about her life and was so grateful for me just being there, never mind when I did things for her.

I arranged to take her myself to her first appointment after her operation with the Consultant.  This was a real eye opener, as I had not considered the difficulties involved in taking an elderly person to hospital alone.  Dropping her off at the entrance to the hospital seemed to go well.  She insisted she knew where she was going, and would meet me (after I parked the car) in the department.  So far so good.  Fifteen minutes later when I got to the department there was no sign of her and I began to panic.  She did not in fact have any idea about where she was going and as I rushed around the huge hospital back tracking to where I left her my heart was in my mouth.  Fortunately I found her standing by a lift, telling a kindly orderly that she was looking for me.  He was looking bemused by her and so when I suddenly flew around the corner and she saw me we all sighed with great relief.

Tess

Tessa

The meeting with the Consultant went well. Although my partner was elderly, her amazing personality and zest for life endeared her to all.  I had been nervous about whether the professionals would accept me in my role but they were all respectful and accepting of my position.

Following this trip, I made arrangements for the ambulance service to pick her up and if I was required to be there would meet her at the required time.  Certainly it is always worth thinking about logistics and mobility before setting out on expeditions and this was one of my first lessons.

There has now come a point when my partner no longer requires my assistance and so I had to go through the process of letting her know and saying goodbye.

This was very hard, we had formed a great bond, she relied on me to read letters to her and organise appointments but from a cancer perspective she did not really need be to be acting as her advocate any longer.

I understood this but on the other hand I felt great sadness at having to say goodbye to this wonderful, brave woman. 

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Over three weeks I prepared her for our ending and on the final day we hugged, we both understood it was at an end but it felt sad and I could see she was a little confused.

 I am grateful for this first experience as a volunteer advocate.  As an advocate you really have no idea what your partner’s needs may be and they can evolve as their treatment and circumstances change.  As an advocate you need to be conscious of this.  For me it is an extremely worthwhile and very necessary role.

Things I learnt:

Sometimes people say they can manage when they can’t

Sometimes people don’t want to be a bother

Sometimes people are more ambitious than they are capable of and need a little help

This has taught me to listen very carefully to what is being said and to try to ensure that my partner feels they can ASK for help and know they are not too much trouble.

Tessa Watts, April 2016

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Author: Marie McWilliams

OPAAL's National Development Officer

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