Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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World’s Biggest Coffee Morning ……. Again!

Juanita Williams, Volunteer Coordinator from Sandwell Advocacy’s Cancer, Older People and Advocacy (SCOPA) project paints a vivid picture of this year’s World’s Greatest Coffee Morning and what it means:

It’s September and to me that means one thing to me –  not the end of the summer, not the children and teachers going back to school – It’s the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. 

I have been hosting coffee mornings since 2006 as my way of thanking Macmillan Cancer Support for supporting our family on my dad’s cancer journey.  I have raised thousands of pounds for Macmillan over the last ten years but I have had so much back. Every time I do something for them, another opportunity seems to come my way which enriches my life.  I suppose that’s what happens for the volunteers here at SCOPA.  They came along to give something back and in return they get a sense of achievement knowing they have made a difference to someone’s life. It’s a really positive and rewarding cycle.

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I know I have written blogs about it before as have many other Cancer Older People and Advocacy projects but the events are always so different.  Firstly, every year we have a new Mayor.  This year we were joined by Cllr. Julie Webb.  She spent lots of time talking to local residents and volunteers about the work of SCOPA and Macmillan.  She is very aware of how cancer affects so many people in her ward, across the borough and the rest of the country. 

We also had a very special guest from Macmillan Cancer Support.  John Pearson is the Executive Director of Cancer Support Operations.  I met John for the first time back in 2014 when I was taking part in an “extreme” Macmillan Cancer Support cycling challenge over the Himalayas in India.  John and his wife were also cycling and camping on this really tough ride.  I think that’s what I really like about John – he works for Macmillan but he also raises thousands of pounds for the charity.  I’ve seen his Facebook pictures – he runs, cycles, sails, treks, hosts black tie events, serves water at marathon pit stops, gets up at ungodly hours to sell at car boots, barbeques, makes tea for little old ladies and sports a green afro wig with style when called for! And that’s in his spare time!

As a very active volunteer and fund raiser himself John totally gets what it is we are doing here in Sandwell on the Cancer Older Peoples Advocacy project.  It was for this reason I wanted to invite him to meet our volunteers and some of their partners who are being supported.  I wanted him to see what a huge difference SCOPA and Macmillan can make to an area like Sandwell.

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We opened the event at 10.00am.  It was an early start for myself and my friend Jenny who works at Sandwell Irish Community Association where we host the event.  Jenny does all the work over at the venue, making sure the room is booked, hiring materials to dress the room and sourcing prizes for the raffle.  I couldn’t do the event without her support.  The SCOPA staff team arrived next and set about making sure everything was ready for our guests to turn up.

 

Next to arrive was my mom, Cath.  Mom spends her leisure time crafting and always puts on a fabulous stall full of handmade gifts.  She has learned that it’s never too early to start selling Christmas items and this year’s creations included knitted handbags, felt flower brooches, Steam Punk boxes (you will have to Google that one as it’s too difficult for me to explain) and fairy houses.  The Mayor is always brought to the event by the Sergeant at Arms (chauffeurs to you and me). This year we were joined by Kennedy and he always informs the Mayor about the event prior to her arriving so she knows what to expect.

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Eventually all of our guests get to sit down and enjoy a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake.  We have so many talented supporters who bring along their cakes.  The cupcakes always look splendid stacked high on the cake stands but the Victoria sponges, chocolate sponges, lemon drizzle, rocky road slabs, banana loaves and coffee & walnut cakes are equally as delicious. This year we were treated to a magnificent chocolate cake covered in soft icing and Maltesers.  Apparently there were no calories in it at all (that’s what she said!) I can honestly say that the bakers of Sandwell never let us down. 

Sandwell council sent along one of the communications team to take photographs of the event. This year we were also joined by an apprentice who spent time photographing the cakes.  These all went onto Twitter, Facebook and to the local Express and Star newspaper.  We were a bit cheeky and we asked the photographer to take a few extra shots for us to use ourselves.  We plied him with cake and he didn’t refuse.

Throughout the morning the SCOPA volunteers, board members and staff were all on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly.  Some served refreshments, others washed up and some were simply there to listen – that’s what we do – and we do it well.  This year we were joined again by some of our partners, its lovely for all of us to meet with them face to face as often we only get to chat on the telephone. It’s always good to put a face to a name and a voice.

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We drew the raffle and you could hear a pin drop as people waited anxiously to hear if their number was being called.  The gifts had been generously donated to us and included orchid flowers, chocolates, champagne, toiletries and much more. In total we raised over £380.00 and this has been paid in and is on my Justgiving page.

Here at SCOPA we have built very successful relationships with our Macmillan colleagues, both on the wards and out in the community.  Their involvement is key to the promotion of our service and we really appreciate their help, likewise they value what we can do for them.  When we host a coffee morning we are able to promote the SCOPA project and get the word out to both professionals and the local community. I work with wonderful people who are all striving to make these journeys a little easier.  I can’t think of a better way to network and reach out to people – but that’s because I simply love a cup of tea and a piece of homemade cake! What a great job our SCOPA team are doing.

Juanita Williams, SCOPA

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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.