Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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Older people, family and public policy

Today’s guest blog is from Kirsty Woodard of Ageing Without Children:

The assumption that all older people have family is deeply embedded in our thinking, policy and delivery of care. Think of all the solutions to issues associated with ageing that start with “talk to older people and their families”. This is largely understandable; 92 per cent of unpaid care is carried out by family members; however there are already 1 million people over the age of 65 who have never been parents which will double to 2 million by 2030. Still more older people are estranged from their children, have been predeceased by them or have children in no position to support them for a variety of reasons. Add to this the growing number of older people who are single, widowed or divorced (the rate of divorce in people over 50 is rising faster than any other age group) and it is clear that an unprecedented demographic shift is taking place. More older people than ever before are living longer but are not and will not be in a position to rely on family support.

There is often an assumption that older people without children have developed good relationships with wider kin and have strong friendship networks that can step in and substitute for family. Unfortunately, the research to date shows that this only works when older people are healthy and need short term or one-off support. If or when people’s health deteriorates and care needs increase, these wider networks fall away just at the time they are needed most.

The reality of care for people without children

Unfortunately thinking and planning on care has not yet caught up with this reality. For example, 80 per cent of older people with disabilities are cared for by either their spouse or child yet the number of older people with disabilities who live alone and have no child is projected to increase rapidly, rising by nearly 80 per cent between 2007 and 2032. Evidence shows that people ageing without children receive less unpaid care than those with children and consequently are forced to rely on paid for care yet access to social care has never been so limited. People ageing without children are 25 per cent more likely to go into residential care but the residential care sector in the UK is in parlous state.  People without children are up to a third more likely to be carers for their own elderly parents but there is little focus on their specific needs as carers ageing knowing there is no adult child to support them.

As a society we must plan care around the population we have now and will in the future, not one from the past. Exhortations for families to do more not only belie the huge amount families are doing providing care and support but exclude those without.

So what can we do?

Firstly, we need to review our care services from the point of older people doing everything entirely without support from family. This includes everything from finding out information to getting their washing things in the event of unplanned hospital admission to creating a lasting power of attorney to arranging hospital discharge to searching for a care home. Only then can we see how much family support is required to make the system work and where we need to change things so it works for those without. Care services that work for people without family support will work far better for people who do have family too

Secondly, care services must make a greater effort to understand why so many more people are ageing without children and the issues that face them. It is not possible to design services that work if you do not understand the people you are designing them for. People ageing without children must be included in all co-production and planning on ageing as a matter of course.

Thirdly services must consider their use of language. Branding services with “grandparent/grans/grannies” unless they specifically mean only grandparents should use them exclude older people who are not and never will be grandparents.

Fourthly, people ageing without children should be supported to form groups both on and off line where they come together to form peer support networks. People ageing without children want to help themselves and each other.

Fifthly, the gap around advocacy must be addressed. People ageing without children have been very clear on their fears of an old age without a child to act as their intermediary and advocate in their dealings with care services particularly if they become incapacitated mentally or physically.

Finally, everyone, both people ageing without children and those who do have family, should be helped to plan for their later life.

People ageing without children must be brought into mainstream thinking on ageing. By working collectively we can as individuals, communities and wider society address the needs of older people without children or any family support. Only by working together can we care differently for people ageing without children.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the blog’s author alone and do not necessarily represent those of OPAAL (UK). OPAAL (UK) is not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied in blogs by external contributors.

Kirsty Woodard, Ageing Without Children

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Positive practice in mental health services

Here at OPAAL we’re absolutely delighted to report that the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme has been shortlisted for an award in the National Positive Practice in Mental Health Awards in the “Older people’s mental health and dementia” category. This will help us continue to raise the profile of advocacy and peer support.

The Positive Practice Mental Health Collaborative is a user led multi agency collaborative of seventy-five organisations, including  NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Police Forces, third sector providers, front line charities and service user groups. It aims to identify, and disseminate positive practice in mental health services by working together across organisations and sectors, to facilitate shared learning, and to raise the profile of mental health with politicians and policy makers.

Positive Practice is dedicated to providing a directory of positive practice in mental health services and the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme is now listed in this directory.

Having carried out its first service user focused assessment of a mental health service well over 20 years ago, and having been identifying and sharing positive practice for almost as long, the collaborative came to the conclusion many years ago that there is a ‘perfect mental health service’ out there, ‘it’s just not all in one place’. By developing this directory they intend to demonstrate this theory.

The directory also features positive practice examples featured in the pathways developed for NHS England by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health.

The full directory as it stands can be found here

The awards ceremony takes place on Thursday 12th October 2017.

Wish us luck!

Marie McWilliams, Operations Manager, OPAAL

 


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And now for some good news…

Today, Angela Jones advocate at Age Connects, Cardiff and the Vale provides us with some uplifting news:

It is with great delight that we are able to inform you that from April 2017 – April 2018 we have been funded via Macmillan Wales to continue the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project and support older people living in Cardiff and the Vale.  Words can’t express how chuffed we are at this good news. 

Angela

The Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project has gone from strength to strength and all professionals and service users who have been involved, have all been very positive about the support we provide to clients, and the benefit and impact this has had on their lives. 

It can be an arduous task setting up a new project, it takes time and dedication, and we are so pleased that we are here for a while longer! We are hopeful to secure further funding beyond April 2018 to continue our vital service to people affected by cancer.

Angela Jones, advocate, Age Connects Cardiff & the Vale


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Lightening the transport burden: how Advocacy in Barnet helped older people with cancer to attend their chemotherapy appointments

Today Rhonda Oliver of Advocacy in Barnet highlights some of the difficulties faced by those attending chemotherapy appointments:

As many older people affected by cancer will tell you, getting to and from their chemotherapy appointments can be a nightmare.

Public transport in the UK is dirty and overcrowded and people worry about picking up illnesses when their immune system is suppressed by chemotherapy. Journeys to and from Central London from the London Borough of Barnet may involve multiple bus and tube journeys. For older people affected by cancer the prospect of such journeys when they are feeling exhausted and unwell is very dispiriting and when they finally get home they are too tired to prepare a meal and eat it.

My daughter’s main hospital is in London and parking is nigh on impossible. We are unable to use public transport owing to her condition. She has an inoperable brain tumour which causes her to have frequent seizures, making it very unsafe to use the London Underground”.

If patients are eligible for the ambulance service there is usually a long delay while the ambulance winds its way around Barnet. One of our clients said:

We do qualify for hospital transport, but this frequently entails a 2 hour wait for our journey home and this is extremely tiring and stressful, especially as the journey itself usually takes an hour or so – depending on the traffic – and whether or not there are any other pick-ups/drop offs en route”.

Many patients feel too unwell to drive themselves and may have to rely on friends and family to drive them to their appointments. Parking is often difficult to find and the parking fees may be prohibitively expensive. There is also the stress of worrying about an appointment over-running time, with the prospect of a parking fine to add to the misery.

So how was Advocacy in Barnet able to help to reduce the burden of transport on these patients? It did so as the result of an extremely generous grant from Barnet CancerLink, a local non-medical Barnet charity. This grant enabled us to work with two local taxi companies to provide a free taxi service for patients to and from chemotherapy and related cancer medical appointments. The grant also enabled us to provide a cooked meal on request when people were too exhausted to cook after their appointments.

We were able to help 100 people affected by 22 different types of cancer: 53 females aged 25-84 and 47 males aged 51-82. Some people had multiple return journeys.

Being able to book a cab, which will turn up to collect us in a very reasonable time and which is just for ourselves, makes a huge difference to our day. My daughter is much more relaxed which has a direct effect on the number of seizures she has”.

This last week alone, my husband went back and forth to Barnet General on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The total cost to him was £72. The outlay since August last year would have exceeded £2000 had it not been for Advocacy in Barnet and some wonderful neighbours”.

The grant took effect from December 2016 until June 2017, when the grant was exhausted. We are very grateful to CancerLink Barnet for enabling us to demonstrate that people living with cancer are in desperate need of help with their transport needs and to show its impact on cancer patients in Barnet.

Rhonda Oliver, Project Manager, Barnet Macmillan Cancer Advocacy.


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What Price Advocacy?

Today our thanks go to Jan Dyer of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy for taking the time to share her peer advocate’s point of view:

Cancer advocacy makes a difference now, and could make so much more. Advocacy saves the NHS money and provides better quality care, it makes cancer journeys better and easier to undertake.

Yes, you’re right, it’s very difficult to prove, it can’t be easily quantified. I could give you plenty of examples, but in pounds and pence, no. But I can tell you, that over the last three years, working as a Macmillan Peer Volunteer Advocate, I have seen it for myself. Let me share some of my experiences and pose some questions……

The patients, friends and families I meet don’t always have the tools to hold their home teams together and support their structure, they are floundering in unknown territory, with no experience to draw on.

There is a presumption that every relationship is in a good place at diagnosis, and that would be great but it isn’t the reality. Some rally and rise to the challenge, but some carry baggage on this trip, which can complicate the decision process and can make the going even harder.

Realistically, how much time do our overworked medical teams have to talk to patients and support team? For some, nowhere near enough.

If communication becomes difficult between home and medical teams, who steps in, pursues and explores possible solutions to get things moving forward again? How much easier is it to deal with patients if they come prepared for appointments because they’ve had time to discuss their worries, fear, frustrations and options in an objective environment first? Sometimes patients just want to walk away from appointments having asked all the questions they wanted to, with no ‘I wished I’d asked’’ moments later, with all the confusion and frustration that brings. Let’s face it, if it’s all new, how do you know what you don’t know?

Jan

Then there are the carers who, however well meaning, may not be not equipped for the very new situation in their life. Who want to do their very best, but don’t know how to or have time to find what they need. Who supports them? Anybody can struggle when practical problems come along, meeting unfamiliar challenges in an uncharted world.

Who will have time to discuss and help them make an end of life plan? When all around you, fearing a bad outcome are urging ‘Just be positive’ and driven by a ‘if you don’t talk about it, it won’t happen’ mentality? Who tells them, ‘you don’t have to be super positive every day, its normal to have bad days’, and gives them a safe haven to express this?

The possible situations are endless, and I haven’t even got to the easier basics like ’How can I visit my husband in hospital, I don’t drive?’ ‘How can I pay my bills, when I’m not earning at the moment?’ ‘How can I get my toe nails cut?’ etc. etc….

As an advocate, I have supported real people through all of this and more. I am trained and prepared to have the conversations that people don’t necessarily want to have with loved ones, if indeed they even have anyone to have these conversations with at all.

I would like the service to be offered to every person affected by a cancer diagnosis. The decision to accept the offer is theirs, the right to change their minds, at any time, one way or another is theirs. But in not making them this offer, it is in fact depriving people of a real opportunity. Advocacy offers each individual who is on an ‘unasked for journey through the unknown’ to have a ‘tailor made’ experience and to regain some feeling of control – which could completely change things for them – and in fact for everyone involved.

As an advocate, I have a few frustrations, but my primary one is clear; I don’t understand why an advocate is not offered to everyone.

Jan Dyer, peer advocate, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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I will be able to concentrate on getting well…

With Carers Week underway we thought it might be useful not only to acknowledge and appreciate the support carers provide but also to recognise that sometimes its the carer themselves who get a diagnosis of cancer.

Caring responsibilities can be exhausting enough but imagine the additional strain of a new diagnosis. That’s exactly what happened to John and I recount his story from our Every Step of the Way publication here:

“My name is John. I was born in 1953. I live with my wife who is the same age as me, in fact, we are only a month apart in age. We live in a suburb of a town. I have been a carer to my wife since she had a stroke when she was in her 30’s. That was a terrible thing to happen to someone so young. It left her unable to read or write and her speech is very difficult to understand.

At the beginning of September of 2013 I was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. For the next few weeks I didn’t receive any prognosis or treatment for this condition. I was told that I would be told what was wrong with
me at an appointment with the Consultant due in mid-October at the hospital.

I went to that appointment with my wife. I was told that I had a terminal cancer of the throat. I went quite numb. However, my wife wasn’t convinced. She had been a nurse and some of the things that were being said to me were not quite ringing true with her. She tried to explain her feeling to the nurse on reception but she just turned her eyes up. My wife noticed that there were 2 appointments for Smith on the same day.

I was very upset by the news and couldn’t think straight. My wife was doing the best she could but her own problems were not helping her. One day the Stroke Association home visitor called. She told us about the cancer advocacy
service and said that she would make a referral to them. This she did. In the meantime the Doctors did realise that they had told me some of the wrong information. I am not clear how this happened. However, my prognosis had
changed and they were now saying that my cancer was not necessarily terminal.

Richard called to see me quite soon after that. He was an advocate. I explained my position to him. I told him that I suffered from asbestosis and emphysema and that the Doctors were saying that an operation may not be possible
as the Doctors were concerned about the effects that an anaesthetic may have on my lungs and kidneys.
I told Richard all about my problems and those of my wife. I was feeling a little better about things as now there was a ray of hope. I had another appointment coming up and would contact Richard after I had been seen.

I went to see the consultant again in November. They said that I could go into hospital for an operation. I am now in the hospital, but, unfortunately, the site of the operation has become infected and it looks like I will be here for some time.

My wife does visit me but it’s a very difficult journey for her as it’s a long way to go. She does drive but doesn’t find it easy. We have a great deal of problem with communication because I have had a tracheostomy.
I didn’t manage to get around to telling Richard that I was going into hospital before I went. I had told him that I would let him know what was happening but things moved very quickly and I didn’t get back to him.

Peer advocate Richard

My wife has found it increasingly difficult to deal with things at home. She seems to be getting letters from the hospital that didn’t make any sense. This was particularly difficult due to her communication problems. She can’t pick up the phone and easily have a conversation with someone. She began to wonder if they were still mixing me up with someone else. She has also had letters from the benefits department asking me to make an appointment to see if I am still eligible for benefits. She can’t deal with this at all.

However, the good news is that Richard had been made aware of my current position. He has contacted my wife and is going to go and see her this week and help her sort things out. That will be a great weight off my mind. I will be able to concentrate on getting well and not worrying about her and what’s going on at home.

The help from the cancer advocacy service is for people ‘affected’ by cancer and not just those that have it. Richard’s input is of great help. He understands my wife’s condition and makes allowances for her communication problems.
I don’t know how long I will be in hospital but I am very reassured that Richard is going to help at home.”

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL


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As Volunteers Week draws to a close…

Our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme would never have achieved what it has without our amazing volunteers. They’ve supported us as peer volunteer advocates as well as local and national cancer champions.

Those who have been directly affected by cancer themselves have determined to give something back, to support others going thorough the same trauma and to help ensure older people don’t face their cancer journey alone.

Some of their stories are told in Time: our gift to you, our most recent publication. Today, as Volunteers’ Week draws to a close for another year, we’d like to share Claire’s story with you:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and despite lots of treatment – chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiotherapy, reconstructive surgery and targeted drug therapies – I learnt in 2015 that my cancer had spread and I am now living with secondary breast cancer.

Last year, I decided to volunteer as a peer advocate in Oxfordshire because I could see at first hand, as I was going through my treatment, that there were many people who were struggling to find their way through the healthcare system in our area and to access the support they needed. It seemed obvious to me that a person who has been treated for cancer is potentially in a very strong position to support another person going through the same or similar treatment and experience.

One of the older people affected by cancer that I’ve supported is Sally (not her real name). She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and was referred to Oxfordshire Advocacy by her specialist breast nurse. Sally lives alone, struggles to get out and had become very isolated and depressed. When I first met her, she talked often about the diagnosis being the “final straw” and I recognised many of the feelings that I had felt when I was first diagnosed: anger, fear, sadness, even despair.

In the first few weeks when I visited Sally at her home, we often would just talk and share experiences and I know that she really appreciated that someone had taken the time to sit and listen and talk. I knew that when you are first diagnosed with cancer you do get quite a long appointment slot with your consultant and your specialist nurse, but you are in a state of shock and you can’t really take things in, and you are certainly not able to talk through how you are feeling. You need lots of time to process what is happening to you and it is weeks later when you are ready to really think about what is happening to you.

Since then, I have been able to help Sally in a number of ways. For example, I contacted Breast Cancer Care, I knew how good they were from my own experience, and ordered a number of information leaflets for her – some on treatments she had been advised to have, specific information on lymphedema and some on other issues such as her benefits entitlement. Sally suffers from cataracts as well and so I made sure I ordered the information in large print so that she could read the text.

Sally had a specific issue with one of her drugs that was making her feel unwell – I recognised the issue because I had suffered something similar – so I printed some information from the Macmillan Cancer Support website. Sally doesn’t have a computer or access to the internet. I took it to her and read it through for her. I also helped her prepare some questions about this for her next GP appointment and as a result she was able to discuss the issue with her doctor and get the drug changed to minimise the side effects.

Most recently I was able to help Sally with her application for a one-off Macmillan support grant – she wanted to use the money to help with her heating oil. She had being finding it difficult to fill in the form and so she dictated to me what she wanted to say in her application and I was able to write it down for her and I could use my experience to help with the spellings of all the drugs she was taking! She said that receiving the money was very important to her as it eased her worries about putting the heating on in the winter.

I hope that I have managed to convey that working with Sally has also been very rewarding for me. Cancer treatment is often quite technical and complicated and over time you are forced to become quite an expert in the healthcare system and how to get support. I am really glad to be able to put my experience to good use.

Our final thought this Volunteers’ Week is the adage: “Volunteers are not paid, not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.” So thank you to volunteers everywhere.