Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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One Man’s Experience Touching the Nation

Today Jen Rimmer from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy (Dorset Advocacy) tells us about the inspirational Steve Hewlett:

Steve Hewlett’s recent interviews on Radio 4’s PM programme about his experience of cancer have been widely acclaimed. Steve is a writer, broadcaster and media consultant – he is also the editor of Radio 4’s Media Show and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in March 2016.

From the outset Steve understood that his treatment was always going to be about extending lifespan rather than curative and Steve has been open and frank about his feelings and experiences both with his family, colleagues and the nation!

As a seasoned journalist, maybe it comes as second nature to him to research and report on his cancer experience but the resultant articles and particularly the interviews with PM’s Eddie Mair have provoked a strong response in those that have heard them with listeners reporting things like remaining sitting in their cars on their driveways to hear the interviews in their entirety. Others have commented on the positive effect of hearing a man (or men as Steve’s 3 grown sons are also interviewed on one occasion) discuss his feelings so openly.

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Steve in his cold cap during chemo

From the outset, Steve’s experience has been characterised by choices. Initially choosing the best hospital and treatment and, latterly investigating the possibility of participating in clinical trials.

Faced with a terminal diagnosis and potentially a short window of opportunity (he was told that, left untreated, he would lose the ability to eat or drink within 8-10 weeks) Steve describes himself as being “reduced to tears” but the inefficiencies of the NHS administrative process in securing appointments.

At his very first appointment at his local hospital, Steve describes being seen by a Registrar who suggested a treatment regime but made no mention of an additional drug that Steve had been expected to be offered based on his own research. So Steve politely mentioned it. Leaving the room, a brief corridor discussion between Registrar and Consultant led to the Registrar returning and offering to include the additional drug. On questioning the Registrar agreed that research does suggest that, although patients may tolerate the treatment regime less well, the additional drug provides a 10% improvement in response. Steve comments wryly that 10% seems a lot more significant when faced with a prognosis like his but his main point here is that he felt aggrieved not to have been offered the choice. Unsurprisingly this hospital was not in the end Steve’s choice for his treatment, opting instead to attend the Royal Marsden in London.

The Macmillan Cancer Nurse Specialist present during one interview underlined the importance of taking a second person with you to appointments not least for emotional support but also to be a second pair of ears. Steve agreed that this was great advice but wondered how his 80 year old mother would cope with this process if he found it so hard. “Would she have been able to access the information, would she have been able to get on and off the phone chasing her appointments and ultimately challenge the doctors? How many people just go along with it all passively?”

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Here we see an educated, articulated and self-advocating individual describe his experience of navigating the cancer pathway and struggling. As advocates we traditionally support those less able to have their voices heard but Steve’s testimony makes the case for cancer advocacy clear. Even when health care professionals are doing their very best, many of us would find advocacy support invaluable if faced with a difficult diagnosis.

Find Steve’s interviews here on the BBC’s iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03m4q5s/episodes/downloads

Follow Steve on Twitter: @steve_hewlett

Jen Rimmer, Dorset Advocacy

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Clinicians and Patients: Balancing the Conversation

Today Jen Rimmer, advocate from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy and Dorset Advocacy, looks at the barriers to patients being more involved in decisions affecting their care:

BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health (listen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vs2p0) reported on NHS Wales’ new initiative ‘Choosing Wisely’ which is attempting to challenge the general atmosphere that doctors know best and encourage patients to engage more actively in the decision making process around their tests and treatments.

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Dr Paul Myers, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in Wales who is leading the new initiative was interviewed on the programme. He explained that the NHS is, “often too quick to offer patients treatments and interventions that don’t always benefit them and may even harm them…up to 10% of interventions in healthcare are inappropriate and perhaps even harmful”

To tackle this, patients are being encouraged to ask 4 key questions of their clinicians:

  • What are my options?
  • How likely is the treatment to benefit or harm me?
  • Do I really need it?
  • What can I do to help myself?

In tandem there is work going on to ensure that the clinicians are more receptive to patient questioning in an NHS culture dominated by time constraints and clinical decision making processes increasingly driven by guidelines and protocols.

Dr Myers describes findings that patients, “continually express that they’d like to be more involved in the decisions made about them” but at the same time many patients state that they have difficulties having conversations with their clinicians.

The Choosing Wisely initiative acknowledges that failing to understand patients’ needs and wants often leads to high levels of patient dissatisfaction and that spending time in the initial consultation listening and identifying the concerns, values and preferences of the patient pays dividends later down the line.

But what are the barriers to achieving this and how can these be addressed? Well for those of us who already work in healthcare advocacy, one useful strategy is clear!

Dr Margaret McCartney, a regular contributor to Inside Health, highlights some of the issues – time constraints in appointments and the problem in assuming that every patient is able to take in and process the information given to them in such a way as to reach an informed decision.

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Jen Rimmer

As advocates, we see this all the time. Ensuring that a person with a known cognitive impairment or learning disability is supported to digest information and come to the decision that is right for them is a given but we also see usually assertive and self-advocating individuals floored in the face of important and stressful medical decision making processes. This can be due to the emotional and psychological shock they are feeling or simply being unfamiliar with the medical domain. Advocates have both the time and the skill to support patients to make decisions and, as we have seen here in Dorset, both cancer patients and clinicians report positive outcomes as a result of Independent Advocacy involvement before, after and at appointments.

It is great to see initiatives such as ‘Choosing Wisely’ and similar programmes are set to roll out across the UK later in 2016 but if the NHS fail to consider how Independent Advocacy could support this, they might be missing a trick!

Jen Rimmer, advocate, Dorset Advocacy & Dorset Macmillan Advocacy