Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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Over time I was able to build a trusting and secure relationship with Valerie

Aneesah, advocate at our delivery partner ICANN, tells us about Valerie (not her real name) and her issues around divulging that she is HIV:

I received a referral for Valerie who had used us as a service in our previous advocacy work. She was diagnosed with breast cancer but was in the very early stages of recovery. Therefore, she was extremely emotional when we initially met. Because I already had an established relationship in our previous advocacy service Valerie felt comfortable to talk to me openly about her feelings and concerns.

Valerie’s ethnicity and cultural background played an important role in how she felt and how she mentally perceived how she should be handling her medical problems. She’s from African descent and although she was living with her sister she was of the strong opinion that she needed to be emotionally strong and expressing her true feelings and worries was a great sign of weakness. Yet equally it was clear to me that these vulnerabilities and insecurities were taking a very big toll on her and was having a far deeper rooted impact on her mental health.

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These feelings of guilt and shame were exasperated as she had also been diagnosed as HIV positive some years ago. Due to Valerie’s concerns she felt that this was another medical condition that needed to be keep hidden. What came through in our conversations was that although fortunately she had a very good and trusting relationship with her consultant the diagnosis of breast cancer meant that she had to constantly disclose the fact that she was HIV positive to other medical health professionals, particularly during the period she was undergoing chemotherapy as the requirement was to have regular blood count checks. Because she was highly conscious and anxious about her diagnosis of HIV coming to light, she found the whole treatment procedure very tense and traumatic.

By the time she established contact with me she had many unexplored and suppressed worries. Her main reason for contact was an approaching benefits assessment. Valerie felt she was forced into a situation where she would have no choice but to discuss medical issues she was highly uncomfortable with.

In our meetings which followed over a couple of weeks I was able to talk and reassure her that she should not feel shame or guilt towards her condition. As time went on we met regularly and Valerie was able to make the vital step of being able to talk about her condition without supressing her true feelings. I was able to reassure her that for the purpose of the benefit assessment it was vital to disclose both of her medical conditions in depth as her eligibility would depend on this.

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Aneesah

Over time I was able to build a trusting and secure relationship with Valerie and this really helped me to advocate on her behalf. Consequently when we were in the assessment she was able to depend on me to talk on her behalf on occasions when she found things difficult to explain to the assessor or when she became uncomfortable.

As a result, Valerie was successful in receiving the benefit and the experience allowed her to recognise that professionals in general work using the ethic and principles of being impartial and non-judgmental. The experience clearly demonstrated to her that although she felt that by disclosing her medical conditions she would be judged and perceived in a negative and possibly prejudiced way, this in reality was clearly not the case.

As a result of this experience and advocacy support we were then able to arrange specialist focused counselling services as a more long term plan to deal with her anxieties.

This particular experience demonstrated to me and to Valerie that by working on her emotional insecurities and coming to terms with her health condition it was going to enable her to consciously make the effort to attend future appointments in relation to regular health checks at the hospital. Ultimately advocacy support empowered her to be in control of her health, which hopefully now will contribute to improving her quality of life.

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Human rights and advocacy

Emma Voglemann, a volunteer for the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), writes about why human rights are so important for advocates:

For advocates, human rights are a shared language of duty and respect that can be used to achieve good outcomes out of court. The Human Rights Act means that public authorities have a legal obligation to respect human rights when they make any decisions involving a person’s life. Advocates can raise human rights in discussion with a person or public authority and they can use human rights to give older people a voice in decisions about their own life, even if they may not have capacity for that particular issue.

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BIHR have worked with older people and advocates to help them understand and benefit from human rights. In our Guide for Older People we encourage older people to know how to utilise their human rights by recognising situations where rights may be at risk and how to seek help. Through our partnership work, those we work with have used the Human Rights Act to achieve real outcomes.

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Human rights advocacy in real life: Using the Human Rights Act to challenge blanket use of tilt-back chairs in a nursing home.

Laura is a consultant who works with older people, and having worked with BIHR is a keen proponent of human rights in NHS services. She was visiting a nursing home in London when she saw several residents were effectively trapped in special ‘tilt-back’ chairs. The chairs were being used because they stopped people in the home from trying to get up, falling and hurting themselves.

Sadly, this meant many older people who could walk weren’t able to get up and out of the chairs. Instead they had to wait for staff to come and get them out of the chairs so they could go to the toilet or go and get something to eat. The residents at the home who were previously very independent could no longer choose what they wanted to do with their days, and because they couldn’t walk around very often, they started to find walking very difficult.

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Laura was concerned this practice in the home raised human rights issues. She talked to the residents who were kept in the chairs, who told her they felt their dignity and independence was being taken away from them. Laura realised that by not allowing the residents who could walk the freedom to move around, their dignity and autonomy, protected by the right to private life in the Human Rights Act (Article 8) was being risked. She was also concerned that for some of the residents, it might even be inhuman or degrading treatment, which is never allowed under the Human Rights Act (Article 3). Laura raised her concerns with the staff and using human rights language they were able to see that treating all of the residents the same in order to protect the few who needed the tilt-back chairs was not appropriate. Residents who could walk were no longer placed in the tilt back chairs and staff encouraged them to start using their walking skills again.

BIHR’s project work with older people and advocates 

Through partnership projects with older people’s groups, including local branches of Age UK, we have worked to empower older people through training around how to use the language of human rights in their daily lives and to influence service delivery and policy.  

Through this work one group of older people in Derby made a DVD on the issues facing older members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community who live in residential care, which received extremely positive feedback. (Watch the film here). Another group looked at the lack of public toilets and transport links, which helped them collaborate with other groups affected by this issue, such as disabled people and mothers with young children. They raised awareness about this issue and engaged with local officials.

If you’d like to find out more about our work with older people, or to find out more about how advocates can use human rights, check out our resources aimed at advocates and older people. All BIHR’s resources are freely available here.

If, like us, you think human rights are worth protecting, find out how we can stand Together For Human Rights, check out our page: The Human Rights Act: Protect What Protects Us All


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Cancer Equality launches Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Month 2015

Cancer Equality launches Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Month 2015 – to raise awareness, empower communities and save lives.
National charity, Cancer Equality,is launching this year’s Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Month (EMCAM) in July, with the aim of raising awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of screening among Britain’s ethnic minority communities. The campaign also aims to help individuals take up the services that are available to them – with the aim of saving lives.

The campaign is supported by Public Health England and by Bowel Cancer UK, with the charity providing speakers and resources.

Someone in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes. That’s 33,218 men and women every year, with 12,871 cases proving fatal.

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Ethnic minority communities, which make up 14% of Britain’s population, can be particularly at risk, because awareness of cancer and uptake of some cancer services, including screening, are lower in those communities. That means people from ethnic communities tend to be diagnosed when the disease is more advanced, which can lead to poorer survival rates.

EMCAM 2015 aims to tackle those issues, by working with four regional organisations – Croydon BME Forum (London), Black Health Initiative (Leeds), Birmingham Empowerment Forum (Birmingham) and CanSurvive (Manchester).

By working with local organisations that already have close links with ethnic minority communities, Cancer Equality aims to reach as many people as possible throughout the campaign, across the South East, West Midlands, North and North West.

With support from Cancer Equality and Bowel Cancer UK, the four regional organisations will run a range of awareness raising events and activities during EMCAM, aimed at different ethnic minority communities.