Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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Going underground in Poole

Bob Smith, peer volunteer advocate with Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, can be relied upon to reach the parts that others cannot reach and last week was no exception.  Bob was invited by the Senior Therapy Radiographers to tour the Radiotherapy Department in the basement at Poole Hospital after giving a presentation to the radiotherapy team.  He was shown all the equipment currently in use in the Dorset Cancer Centre and heard about the plans to upgrade the machines and manage a new service at Dorset County Hospital.

During his presentation Bob talked about the role of a peer volunteer cancer advocate, screened the film ‘David’s Story’ and then invited questions.  Staff wanted to know about the capacity of the service, if the service could support family members as well as patients and how many different people a volunteer might be supporting at any one time. They also asked Bob to explain how volunteers maintained boundaries and handled the ending of advocacy partnerships.

Photograph shows Bob with L-R Katharine Spinks and Mandy Sydenham, Senior Therapy Radiographers.

Bob has been leading on the Older People’s Cancer Voices project in Dorset and has made presentations to many different audiences including the Afterglow Support Group for patients completing radiotherapy treatment at Poole.  The result of the additional promotional activity has meant that meant that referrals have increased, especially those from health professionals, and staff are now able to spend more time supporting advocacy partners and volunteer advocates.

Kathleen Gillett, Macmillan Project Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

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The fact that she was confident to say ‘no’ made me realise that as an advocate my job was complete

Mike’s Story, recently released on OPAAL’s 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.  This story was produced under our Older People’s Cancer Voices work programme, and we have been identifying other stories for future filming.

Today we have a related post written by Aneesah Bana, the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project advocate from delivery partner ICANN. Aneesah tells us about working with a client who was considering being the subject of one of our Older People’s Cancer Voices films:

When I was approached by OPAAL to identify a client that would be willing to participate in making a short film about their personal ‘cancer journey’ and how advocacy support facilitated them I initially thought I had the ‘ideal’ client who not only made profound changes to her life but was truly inspiring as a person who in the face of various adversities continued to not only remain positive but actually viewed her cancer diagnosis as a ‘blessing in disguise’.

Prior to diagnosis my client led a life that could be described as emotionally and physically chaotic. This started from childhood where she was the youngest from a family of six children. Events beyond my clients control were to shape and mould her childhood and many years into her adult life.

My client’s mother had abandoned her family when she was a child. With a physically and sexually abusive father my client grew up in an environment where neglect and mistreatment became the norm. These early childhood experiences were followed into early adult life as my client went into one abusive relationship to the next. To cope with the continuous emotional trauma ‘x’ became heavily dependent on alcohol and was also a heavy smoker.

I met ‘x’ as an advocate as she was diagnosed with throat and mouth cancer. At the point of meeting ‘x’ had given up alcohol and was successful at stopping smoking. Although my first meeting was to assist her during a DWP meeting I was genuinely intrigued at what prompted her change in lifestyle as my own previous employment role was in child protection and very rarely did I come across individuals who not only had a very clear insight of their problems but could identify the cycle of abuse and how she was able to stop this.

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Although my support with ‘x’ began on a more practical level where I aided her with benefits and appointments this moved on to something far more deep rooted as various dormant and repressed emotional issues came to surface.

‘X’ recognised that her choice in lifestyle was a direct result of severe early childhood trauma. When she was diagnosed with cancer many of these supressed feelings emerged. Consequently she would often tell me of experiencing vivid nightmares and flashbacks of what had happened. I was able to get ‘x’ specialist counselling which dealt with people who were diagnosed with cancer as they also recognised that it was not unusual for people diagnosed to resurface repressed emotional hardships when diagnosed and particularly once treatment has ended.

Over the course of a few months ‘x’ attended the sessions and the changes to her mental attitude were very apparent to see.

We often discussed how throughout life she was not able to recognise that it was healthy to have boundaries, particularly in intimate relationships but also with her own children. As over the years her relationship with her children also became strained as she felt that they too would on occasions manipulate her emotionally. Ultimately ‘x’ discovered that at times it is actually better to say ‘no’ to situations that inherently made her feel uncomfortable.

With these new found healthier boundaries however came more difficulties as she began to put them into place with her own children. Although ‘x’ faced this new difficulty she sincerely acknowledged that they were necessary.

The healthier emotional change also to a certain degree instigated a physical transformation. Where she once again started to take care of her herself and her appearance.

Due to these changes I initially felt that she herself would sincerely benefit by participating in the film. I was of the opinion that ‘x’ could not only visually see how far she had come but hopefully inspire others who are going through a similar experience.

Initially when I asked ‘x’ if she would like to participate in the film she was excited at the prospect and consequently I arranged a meeting with Justin the film maker.

Aneesah

Aneesah

At the meeting we discussed various issues and ‘x’ was very open about her experiences and how I as an advocate aided her. Throughout the discussion ‘x’ was very complimentary of the advocacy service and it was only after the meeting that I was able to help ‘x’ recognise that the changes actually came and were directed from her and I was able to merely facilitate them. Ultimately after the group meeting when I spoke to ‘x’ there was a sense of genuine self-acknowledgement at how far she had come.

Unfortunately soon after ‘x’ decided that she did not want to participate in the film citing that she was not comfortable and that she recognised that her privacy was important.

The old ‘x’ would have been to uncomfortable and would have attempted to appease myself and Justin in fear not to offend or inconvenience anyone by going along , when deep down it’s not what she would have wanted.

Ironically it is just the fact that she was confident to say ‘no’ to the film that made me realise that as an advocate my job was somewhat complete as her privacy was a ‘boundary’ and the new ‘x’ confidently put it into place!

Aneesah Bana, ICANN


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Have you voted in the blog awards yet?

OPAAL has been nominated for a UK Blog Award (best health blog) and we’d really appreciate your vote to help us show that #advocacyworks!

We use the blog as a space where we can amplify the voices of older people affected by cancer, giving them a platform to tell their stories. We have made a decision to be brave about the stories we tell, touching on issues including end of life, bereavement and the realities of living with a cancer diagnosis, either as a patient, a carer or both.

The next stage of the process is the Public Vote, which began on Monday 5th December and runs until Monday 19th December at 10.00am. The UK Blog Awards committee tell us that the calibre and standard of candidates who have entered and been nominated has raised the bar for another year and they cannot wait to award the UK’s content heroes and heroines of 2017!
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The awards are now in their fourth year and have seen a substantial increase in quality of entrants. The UK Blog Awards are the biggest and UK’s longest running programme to recognise influencer talent. 

The Public Vote is an important aspect of the process, as it allows our community to have their say and to show their support for our content. The voting process is quick, simple and effective.

All votes are cast directly from the OPAAL profile page on the UK Blog Awards website. Our page has a unique URL link and can be accessed by clicking here
Marie McWilliams, OPAAL