Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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We’re marking World Cancer Day

Since today, 4th February, is World Cancer Day, we wanted to mark it by sharing a story from our recent publication: Facing Cancer Together – demonstrating the power of independent advocacy.

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Charlie’s story (as told by Karen his advocate with input from Pat, his wife)

Charlie was referred to the advocacy service by the Macmillan Benefits Advisor. He’d been a hospital inpatient for 9 months as he was still being fed through a PEG (a line straight into his stomach) after radiotherapy to treat throat cancer. He hadn’t been able to return home as an appropriate Care Package had failed to be put in place. Although he was free to leave during the day, he had to spend the night on the ward while the liquid feed was slowly fed into his stomach.

Charlie believed that the radiotherapy had ‘burned a hole in his throat’ and he had wanted to pursue a complaint about this but in fact this turned out not to be the case. Working with Karen his advocate he was able to understand better what was happening and why he was experiencing the symptoms he had. Charlie was also understandably really fed up at being stuck in hospital and wanted to get back to living as independent a life as possible.

Charlie and Pat

Charlie and Pat

Charlie had a long history of alcohol abuse although he had long periods of sobriety. Throughout his adult life, during his more functional periods he had sustained a relationship with Pat and after his diagnosis she was there to support him. Unfortunately, prior to his diagnosis Charlie had been drinking heavily and found himself in a vulnerable situation where his flat was frequented by (often unwelcome) visitors and neither the location nor the condition of the flat meant it was a suitable place to be discharged to and for nursing staff to attend.

Due to his alcohol use, Charlie’s memory was very poor and when he was drinking he had been exploited financially by some individuals in his life. As a result a Power of Attorney was lodged with the local authority and his finances were controlled by a Deputy there.

Pat was keen to support Charlie and Karen his advocate quickly got to know them both. Together they were struggling to get things in place to facilitate Charlie’s discharge. Pat’s flat was too small to accommodate the medical equipment and visiting medical staff that this would entail and she understandably felt unable to take on the medical aspects of his care.

Pat describes Charlie at the point when he was first introduced to Karen, “He got very depressed. They kept saying they’d release him from the hospital, but it didn’t happen. They couldn’t sort out his care at home, so they couldn’t work out how to discharge him. He couldn’t eat, but he could drink alright. He told me he’d had enough.”

Charlie’s future was far from certain when Karen first met him, he’d had radiotherapy to treat his throat cancer but there was no definitive prognosis. Karen attended appointments with him and his partner (and latterly wife) Pat.

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Karen supported Charlie at appointments, reminding him, ensuring hospital transport was in place and liaising as requested with health care professionals to ensure that he understood what was happening. She ensured he was supported to return to being able to eat some foods as soon as possible rather than taking all his nutrition via the PEG.

 

Once Charlie’s diagnosis became terminal, the focus of the advocacy centred on supporting him to stay in control of his life right to the end. Charlie desperately wanted to leave hospital and Pat and Charlie wanted to finally get married. The advocate was able to represent Charlie to both the Deputy administrating the Power of Attorney and his Social Worker to facilitate not only these wishes but also his wish to die at home.

Karen helped Charlie and Pat get appropriately graded on the housing list and successfully bid on a two bedroomed bungalow. When relations broke down with the Social Worker Karen negotiated on Charlie’s behalf so that he no longer had to deal with the individual who had made him feel very judged and misunderstood. When relations also broke down with the appointed Deputy all negotiations were carried out by Karen which alleviated some of the stress for Pat and Charlie.

Karen’s challenge to the attitudes Charlie encountered from some health and social care professionals meant that his wishes were respected and that, in spite of them not necessarily understanding his decisions, they were respected.

Karen and Pat

Karen and Pat

Charlie’s cancer returned shortly after he had begun to slowly eat solid food again and he was faced with a terminal diagnosis. Sadly, he passed away in December 2015.

Charlie’s wife Pat says, “Our advocate, Karen, helped with such a lot. She used to speak up to the County Council for me, because I didn’t want to get into another argument. She helped Charlie to get to his hospital appointments on time. She’d meet him in Poole to make sure he arrived. I’d have been lost if it wasn’t for Karen.”

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You can read more stories about the power of independent advocacy support for older people affected by cancer in Facing Cancer Together which can be accessed and downloaded here

 

 

 

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Watch our for our forthcoming publication of volunteer stories. It’s called Time: Our Gift To You. It’ll be available to read and download very soon.

 

 

 

 

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL

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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


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“this empowered her to then make the next step on her own…”

In today’s post John, one of our dedicated peer advocates tell us his story:

I came to volunteering following my retirement. I wanted to use some of the skills I had acquired during my working life in hospitals and my own personal experience of cancer to support others.

As a volunteer advocate for Age Connects Cancer and Older People Advocacy project, I provide non-judgemental support ensuring that the older people’s views and wishes are represented. As a volunteer advocate I ensure there is a better understanding of the clients’ needs, and follow instruction solely from my client; confidentiality and trust is key to this role.

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One call was to support a lady with her decision about moving. I went to visit her at home and found she lived in a top floor flat with no lift. She had difficulty walking so was finding herself increasingly staying at home and going out less as she couldn’t face the thought of struggling with all the stairs.

She asked if we could gain some information from her Housing Association, so with her consent they were contacted and the information was obtained on her behalf.  This information was discussed when I met with her face to face and we chatted at length about her possible options. She liked living in a flat as it was small and manageable. She also liked living on a higher level as she felt safe. However, she understood that with no lift and an impending operation which would incapacitate her even further, life in her top floor flat was going to become even more isolated and difficult. We talked further about the possibility of improvements she may find in her daily life if she moved to a property that had access to a lift and following this she felt more confident to phone the housing association to discuss her options and take it further. Having someone to talk to was vital for this lady, she had limited family and initially she didn’t know how to start the process of enquiry about moving, or even whether it was a viable option. Having spent time with her talking this through, I feel this empowered her to then make the next step on her own.

Another call was to visit a lady in Llandough Hospital. She had battled hard against her cancer and was now receiving end of life care in hospital. There was an absence of relatives so she was pleased to see a visitor. I had previously assisted her with some paperwork when she was at home, so it was nice to see her again, albeit in sad circumstances. I sat with her, held her hand and waited to see if she wanted to talk. When someone’s very unwell they may not want to listen to a chatterbox! Just being there and holding hands can help a person feel better.

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She said she had declined physiotherapy because she was frightened in case she should fall. I spoke with the ward nurse and voiced the clients concerns – we arranged that the physiotherapy would start again.   I enquired about my clients care as there had been some queries about a move to another hospital, at that point in time she was too poorly for a move to take place and going home was not an option as there was no one to take care of her.  The process of what was currently happening was explained to my client and she understood why these decisions had been made. I made arrangements to visit again the following week, but very sadly my client passed away.

Through my volunteering work I support older people who have been touched by cancer with a range of issues, and hope to continue to do so. I can’t help with everything but I do my best. I make the extra effort to give my time and listen – I always listen.

John, peer advocate, Age Connects Cardiff & the Vale

Living in Cardiff and the Vale? If you or someone you know over the age of 50 is affected by cancer and could benefit from our service, please get in touch to discuss how a volunteer advocate could help you.

Call 029 2068 3681 or email copa@ageconnectscardiff.org.uk