Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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The complex interplay of practical, physical and mental factors affecting patient experience

Today Kathleen Gillett of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy considers the barriers preventing older people affected by cancer accessing the help they need:

We explore the physical, emotional and attitudinal barriers that older people may face to speaking up for themselves in a case study about ‘Stan’ during our volunteer induction.  In the case study Stan is given his cancer diagnosis and goes home alone without being offered any further sources of support or information.   Stan’s story is part of the OPAAL Cancer, Older People and Advocacy national training pack for peer volunteer advocates.  Stan is an archetype but in considering his story we put ourselves in the shoes of an older person facing cancer alone.At our most recent meeting for practising advocates we also considered a case study, this time a real one.  Jo Lee, Senior Advocate and Coordinator, outlined the situation of advocacy partner ‘Kevin’. Kevin had got in touch with Dorset Macmillan Advocacy himself after seeing a Macmillan TV advert and then searching the internet for local support. Jo gave a brief overview of Kevin’s medical history, the advocacy issues that he identified at the first assessment and the issues that subsequently presented or were identified by her during that assessment.

A discussion ensued about potential courses of action and then Jo explained what had actually happened.  The ethos of our service meant we were guided by the wishes of the advocacy partner at all times. There was a successful outcome in our having swiftly obtaining a grant and arranging the electrical upgrade and shower installation.  There remained other ongoing and unresolved issues.  At this point Jo ‘unmasked’ the volunteer advocate who was partnered with Kevin and we were able to question him more deeply.

Why had Kevin become disengaged from his healthcare team and been missing his outpatient appointments?

Kevin had longstanding depression, he lived alone with no family in the UK.  He was no longer employed owing to an alcohol problem which might have been linked to pressure at work. His lifestyle meant that he would often watch TV all night and sleep most of the day. Effects of surgery meant that it was extremely difficult for him to make himself understood on the telephone. Fatigue was affecting his mobility and he found public transport to attend appointments very inconvenient. His nutrition was not as good as it could be and he had continuing pain.

The outpatient appointments that Kevin was sent were invariably early in the morning.  Kevin had his letters well organised in a file and knew when the appointments were but did not get up in time to go.  Kevin was in contact with his GP surgery but always seemed to be seen by a different doctor so did not experience any continuity in his primary care.

So we discovered a complex interplay of practical, physical and mental factors affecting Kevin’s ‘patient experience’ and his ability to benefit from the healthcare on offer.

Kevin and his advocate enjoyed an afternoon visit to the seaside once the initial issues were resolved.  It was a rare outing from the flat that was not about medical appointments for Kevin and an opportunity to get to know Kevin as a person for his advocate. The partnership continues and steps are being taken to investigate Kevin’s ongoing pain issues.

Health professionals are dependent upon patients engaging with them.  The barriers to engagement that patients have will sometimes be outside of the scope of their role. Kevin’s advocate has worked with him to resolve the issue that was concerning him most, has coordinated his care in and outside hospital and paved the way for him to reengage with his healthcare team.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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Facing Cancer Together: we’re demonstrating the power of independent advocacy

We’re really excited today to announce the publication, in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, of our latest collection of older people’s cancer advocacy stories entitled Facing Cancer Together.

In 2014 we published Every Step of the Way, a set of patient stories which illustrated the need – and value – of peer advocacy services for older people living with cancer. In this, our second publication, we bring together a further twelve stories of overcoming struggle, loss and anxiety, illustrating a new reality of what older people living with cancer can and should experience.

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But these stories also speak to a broader societal truth, and contradict the common narrative that the pressure from an ageing population with increasingly complex needs is overwhelming our health and social care system. At the heart of that narrative is a prejudice that older people are somehow too needy, too frail, too dependent and a burden the rest of society is expected to carry. This kind of prejudice robs older people of voice, choice and control. Advocacy – such as in the stories contained in Facing Cancer Together – seeks to return them.

When we read stories like these, we aren’t just reading about the experiences of one older person with cancer; we’re also being gifted rich insight on the big challenges facing policymakers, commissioners and practitioners, such as how to deliver high quality, compassionate, person centred care that enables people to be equal partners in their care; and how to tackle marginalisation, social exclusion and uncertainty; and how to manage the impact of cancer
on family, or emotional health, or housing.

Those challenges are for us all, regardless of age, and the methods of addressing these challenges, by investing in peer advocacy and support, greater community engagement and creating the motivations of staff to involve patients in their own care have a net benefit for all of society.

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Stories are powerful not least because they have the capacity to tell us something about ourselves.
The twelve stories in Facing Cancer Together represent the wide range of experience that our advocacy programme
has encountered across 1500 plus cases over the past five years.

 

We hope that they most of all resonate as examples of the actual support available to provide reassurance, companionship, dignity and, most importantly of voice, choice and control.

We want to thank all of those who were willing to share their stories with us, and the many advocates involved in
the programme.

Jagtar Dhanda, Head of Inclusion Macmillan Cancer Support & Kath Parson Chief Executive OPAAL


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Guinea pigs in London!?

In today’s post Karen Pigott, from programme partner Dorset Advocacy and Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, tells us about some recent training delivered after a range of delivery partners identified a need for support on complex case work:

On the 16th and 17th February 15 brave souls from a variety of projects across the country attended Complex Case Training in London. The training was commissioned by OPAAL for the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme and designed by Jenny Purcell from Dorset Advocacy and delivered by her and myself.

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This was the first time the training was delivered so a big ‘thanks‘ to the participants for their suggestions and patience as we tweaked some timings and content to accommodate everyone’s needs.

There was a good mixture of volunteer peer advocates and paid staff with a range of experience which really added to the dynamics and depth of the two days. The importance of being able to share ongoing complex and challenging issues in a supportive environment with a problem solving approach cannot be underestimated.

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At the end of the course all but one participant scored themselves as having increased confidence in approaching complex case work.

Every participant received a ‘Tool kit for Complex Case Training’ to enable them to cascade it through their own organisation.

It was an intense two days but hopefully everyone is confidently applying everything they learnt and shared in whatever situation they find themselves in!

Karen Pigott, Macmillan Project Coordinator, Dorset Advocacy