Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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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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Be Bold for Change on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and the campaign theme is Be Bold for Change.  Big Lottery Fund are speaking to women who have made a big change in their lives and their communities.  Our volunteer peer advocates make a tremendous contribution, choosing to give their time to support their peers because they know that they can use their personal experience of cancer to make a difference to other older people’s lives.

 

Today we’re focusing attention on Claire’s Story, from our recent publication Time: Our Gift to You, which features volunteer peer advocates talking about why they volunteer, and what they themselves gain from their volunteering experience.  Claire has used her own experience of breast cancer to support Sally, her advocacy partner who has the same diagnosis.

Claire’s volunteering story:

“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.”

Read more about the inspirational volunteers who are being bold for change on behalf of and alongside their peers here

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL


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Mike was terrified of meeting with his doctors, Bob helped build his confidence and gave a voice to his fears

Today’s blog post comes from Ang Broadbridge, OPAAL’s Deputy CEO talking about our latest Older People’s Cancer Voices film.

The COPA programme is complemented by our Department of Health funded Older People’s Cancer Voices project; it’s about amplifying the voices of older people affected by cancer, bringing advocacy to life through the stories of older people who have accessed it, and those volunteers involved in its provision.  I’ve been leading this project for 18 months and we’ve tried to give older people access to a wide range of tools to support them to share their experiences.  I’m really excited about the films we are working on with older people.  Bringing their stories to life and seeing advocacy partnerships on screen draws a focus to the many benefits of advocacy, highlights the impact of cancer for older people and shows the strength of those partnerships.

We work with vulnerable client groups and this has been our first foray into filming one to one with advocates and their advocacy partners.  We wanted to be brave about telling these stories and not shy away from difficult topics, working alongside older people to bring these issues to light sensitively.

Mike’s Story, recently released on our YouTube channel highlights some of the many issues advocates support older people affected by cancer with.  Mike talks about the impact of his cancer diagnosis, how his life was taken over by the thought of cancer and how things changed for him when he was introduced to Bob, his volunteer peer advocate.

Mike was in recovery from alcoholism and had just had a diagnosis of diabetes when he was diagnosed with cancer.  He describes feeling terrified and disillusioned, sometimes suicidal.  Bob was someone he could talk to, someone who really knew cancer, Mike says he feels it is essential “to talk to someone who has had similar experiences”.  Bob helped Mike to feel more confident going for treatment and check-ups, to make decisions and speak to health professionals, something Mike found “terrifying” in the early days of his diagnosis.

Bob helped Mike with a wide range of issues; helping to organise his paperwork including identifying pensions, speaking to HMRC and helping him to complete his tax form, encouraging him in his progress overcoming alcoholism, encouraging him to take steps to pick up the telephone and return to the local project who were supporting him with his recovery after he lapsed following his cancer diagnosis, reassuring him about side effects of treatment, ensuring health professionals were made aware that he could feel claustrophobic in smaller spaces, and at first representing his wishes and needs, later encouraging him to have the confidence to do these things for himself next time.

Bob reflects on how the objective of the partnership, to help Mike to stand on his own two feet and express his wishes, has been achieved and he feels he has learned a lot from Mike too, and the many other advocacy partners he has supported in his role.

You can find out more about Older People’s Cancer Voices by following the hashtag #mycanceradvocacystory on twitter, and by following OPAAL’s YouTube channel.


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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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“Advocacy kept me going”

Today we hear from Helen Vernon, advocate at programme partner Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre about Peter, one of the older people affected by cancer she has supported:

Peter referred himself to the Cancer Older People and Advocacy project after a diagnosis of cancer in June 2015. He had recently been told he was palliative.  He had spent 16 months in hospital with a collapsed lung.  Peter had moved in 2014 but regretted the decision due to some issues with the housing association. 

Peter had discovered that there was an electrical cupboard/water tank next to his flat.  His bedroom wall was on the other side of this cupboard and he found his sleep was severely disturbed.  We looked into the option of rehousing but Peter felt that since his diagnosis was terminal he didn’t want to spend the time he had left on a waiting list or moving house. Instead we asked that remedial work be carried out to alleviate the problem.

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I negotiated with the housing association who had put in a request for the job to be completed, but it had been delayed because a surveyor hadn’t been to the flat.  The housing association actioned the job immediately.  I then continued to liaise with the housing association to make sure the job took place and that Peter was satisfied.  

In addition to this I contacted the Department of Work and Pensions to ensure that Attendance Allowance had been started and I explained to him when the payments would take place.

Peter’s family all live abroad and he felt strongly that they should be allowed to live their lives without worrying about him.  He spoke to me at length about his life and his feelings about the cancer. 

When the case was closed I asked Peter what he had thought about the advocacy process.   He said “(Advocacy) gave me a lot of hope that things would improve and they did improve, it (advocacy) kept me going”.

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Helen Vernon

I recently contacted Peter again and he has asked me to revisit him as there are now some issues around his hospital care.  He would like me to write to the hospital on his behalf and to attend appointments with him.  A new case will bring new challenges as his health is declining, but with advocacy support Peter’s wishes will be represented and his voice heard.

Helen Vernon, advocate, Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre