Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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My night at the UK Blog Awards

Kath Parson, OPAAL Chief Executive, tells us about her exciting night at the UK Blog Awards:

It began 24 hours beforehand wondering what to wear of course! The invitation said formal so long dress with all the trimmings, shoes, bag and jewellery to match.

Enjoying the evening

The event took place at the Westminster Park Plaza London in the shadow of Big Ben. I knew it would be a special night as the paparazzi were out in force clicking away at every gorgeous girl alighting from the fleet of taxi’s lining the entrance.

Once divested of coats we were directed to the huge ballroom three floors below street level. My first surprise the sheer number of people, around 500 guests mingling and networking amongst the many attractions provided by headline sponsors The Odeon. The second surprise was the average age of the guests, I definitely felt like an old lady as most people were in their late twenties early thirties. No doubt a reflection of those who drive social media today. I met many fantastic and inspiring people all keen to learn about our blog. I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with several.

The event was sponsored by Odeon

Wonderful hospitality, we were wined and dined like kings. Then came the main business of the event, the awards ceremony itself.

Opened by Gemma Newton, CEO, UK Blog Awards, Chrissie King, Online Influencer and Charly Lester, Head Judge we were told there were 2,400 entries, and 94,000 public votes. Entries were whittled down to a short list of 240 all read by no less than 42 judges across the dozen of more categories. For each category there were individual and company winners.

We were in the Health & Social Care category company section and up against stiff competition, seven amazing blogs all doing a wonderful job informing and supporting their constituency audiences.

We were in the Health & Social Care category company section

We didn’t win, but then I had not expected to. I am just so very proud of our partners and OPAAL staff that we had reached the final’s stage at all. We would not have a blog if the older people we support and our wonderful dedicated volunteers had not agreed to share their many inspiring stories with us, so my sincere thanks to all of you.

The winner in our category was Mentalmovement

I reserve a special mention for our Operations Manager Marie McWilliams who tirelessly manages our blog, well done Marie you can feel very proud of this achievement.

Finally I’d like to thank all those people that voted for us, without you we would not have reached the final. I’m already looking forward to UK Blog Awards 2018, so please keep those stories coming in.

Kath Parson, OPAAL Chief Executive


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Time: our gift to you

We’re absolutely delighted today to be launching our new book of volunteer stories from the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy Programme. Telling 19 different stories of peer advocates and cancer champions, it’s called “Time: our gift to you”.

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We’ve spent lots of time on this blog telling you about the difference our volunteers make to the older people affected by cancer they support. We thought it was about time we gave those volunteers an opportunity to tell their own stories.

Prior to developing this new publication our peer volunteers told us some of the reasons they’ve chosen to become involved:

“It makes a real difference to those we support. It ticks lots of boxes for me, I wanted to continue to use skill, experience & knowledge to help others, to make a positive difference to people’s lives.”

“I want to help people affected by cancer, and am happy to help people through the ‘cancer experience’. For me it’s all about putting something back, I was well cared for and I’m aware that a lot of other people are not so fortunate.”

“Because I believe I can make a real difference, I can help people practically & personally. I have a good idea of what people are going through. I can help them with their concerns or fears for the future. I enjoy being part of a team, and I enjoy the training offered to us all.”

“I feel I can relate to my advocacy partner very well due to my own experiences. I find it useful to have something in common with my partner in addition to the cancer. I am an empathetic person, a good listener and able to support others to express their concerns and worries.”

In addition to making a difference for others, Cancer, Older People and Advocacy volunteers also tell us they themselves benefit from their volunteering role.

You can read and download all 19 stories and find out why cancer advocacy volunteering is making such a difference by clicking here

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL


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A very Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of our readers and contributors.

We have great news to start off the New Year. As you may know we were shortlisted in November in the UK Blog Awards for this blog. Our entry is in the best Health and Social Care Blog category. OPAAL had to put out a big call to our members, stakeholders and friends encouraging them to help us through the initial public voting phase. We were up against some much larger organisations with a bigger social reach than us.

We must have secured a very strong number of votes because on Monday we received the news that we have been announced as a finalist, which means we eagerly await the judge’s vote later this Spring and in the meantime we have a new ‘finalist’ badge to display on our blog! We would also like to thank all of you who voted for us.

facebook-1-2It’s brilliant to have this recognition for our blog. We work tirelessly to secure new content to keep it fresh and our delivery partner projects work hard to make sure we have something new, interesting and timely to share.

This news will encourage us to keep writing; it’s great to be starting the new year on such a positive note!

We’re so happy to be showing the world the impact of independent peer advocacy and that #advocacyworks.

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL


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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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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


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I have found this a really rewarding task and confirmed what I know that ICANN is a good and well led charity.

Did you know that as part of our work we’ve developed Quality Standards for the provision of advocacy support for older people affected by cancer? The standards set out what clients should expect when they receive independent cancer advocacy services.  They are the standards that are demonstrated on a day-to-day basis by good older people’s cancer advocacy services.

The standards are a way of us reinforcing and demonstrating professionalism and commitment in our cancer advocacy service delivery. There are organisational, partnership, monitoring and evaluation, service provision and training, supervision and support standards. Each standard contains a series of statements that, taken together, signify what a good older people’s cancer advocacy service looks like.  It puts the interests of clients first, is safe and effective and promotes trust through a professional and person centred approach.

ICANN is the first of our delivery partners to go through the cancer advocacy Quality Standards audit process and we’re delighted to say, the first to receive their compliance certificate from OPAAL. Many congratulations to them.

ICANN QSCertificate

In today’s blog post, Sandra from ICANN tells us about the process:

As a volunteer with ICANN based in Preston Lancashire, I was flattered to be asked to consider looking to see if ICANN is meeting the Quality Standards for the provision of advocacy support for older people affected by cancer. Was it something I might like to have a look at, as to whether we would be eligible to apply? As always Janet treated me as a volunteer so no pressure however a chat over coffee and I was happy to have a go.

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I spent a couple of hours at home looking through all the audit requirements and going through all the data on the ICANN website that I thought would fit. I was pleased to see that ICANN could measure up to meet most of the requirements and was aware in a couple of areas there would be more material available by talking to other volunteers.

Sandra

Sandra

I set aside a Monday morning with Janet in the ICANN office and we went through all the standards categories filling in some of the blanks. Only one area needed to be addressed which we talked to the CEO about. Later I also spoke to two other volunteers for help and input in their speciality areas, which was very useful.

A few weeks later I spent a further two mornings in the office mostly spent writing up a fair copy, and checking policies and procedures were as requiredI am pleased to report that the area missing is now in place. I found it useful to complete most of the work in the office as Janet and Pat (Admin) were on hand to help with any queries.

I have found this a really rewarding task and confirmed what I know that ICANN is a good and well led charity. Going for the Quality Standards is the right thing to do and I did not find it too onerous.

Sandra, ICANN


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Gay and ageing – breastfallen

Today we’re delighted to reproduce a personal blog post by Roger Newman, a great friend and supporter of OPAAL. It was first published yesterday on Roger’s own blog site:

CHAPTER 1

You know how it is when you’re sitting in the beautifully warm sunshine of an Atlantic island, and at the end of December too! Your mind plays its usual tricks and your past, present and future all move around your brain inconsequentionally.  People, seemingly long forgotten, suddenly appear; events nag their way into the memory producing a cocktail of smiles, feelings of sadness and guilt; and coupled with it all is that priceless feeling of well being . The sun’s rays do their trick and you feel so relaxed as you smooth your body blending together its mixture of sun tan oil and sweat. It has been like that for 10 years now and I happily tell myself that I am lucky, so, so lucky to be here on the island, and may it always be so.

This afternoon as I  rub my chest and gently tweek my nipples, on my right side I feel something unusual. Just a small piece of a flower blown off a shrub by the wind, no doubt. I  close my eyes and continue with the serendipity. A minute goes by and I brush myself but feel it again. It is different, and this time, there is no doubt – it is real. There it is, beneath my right nipple, something distinct, hard and not moving.

I remembered the same feeling on a November day some 18 years before. I had been listening to a radio programme broadcast during breast cancer awareness week. ‘Men get it too’ the announcer said. I felt myself then, and sure enough, there it was, a small lump. Panic! Total fear! But actually, after diagnosis, all was well. It was a fatty lump and was removed, and I never heard about it again afterwards. This time, however, there was something different about it.

CHAPTER 2

On return home a visit to a consultant was arranged. He examined me and told me that he felt it could simply be the residue of my body’s reaction to some medication I was taking, but it was best to do some tests.

From now on my experience of diagnosis took me into a new world, and I had to get used to the fact that it was a  world which was not a man’s world. As a gay man I had not previously felt what might be called a typical heterosexual gender divide, it had not previously been an issue but now, to my surprise, it did. Even the language I used about my body took on  what I would have called a feminine aspect. What I had called my ‘chest’ now was called my ‘breast’. In the body imaging department I felt curiously out of place as I waited for my mammogram. The nurse taking the image clearly wasn’t experienced enough to cope either and she had difficulty suitably arranging a man’s body, whose nipples may have been slightly out of the ordinary, but whose breast hardly fitted a machine which was normally used to photographing something much more pendulous and flexible.

The resulting mammogram was insufficient and an ultra sound was called for, but that didn’t show much either, and a biopsy was next on the list. So with just a few bodily bits missing I prepared for another visit to the consultant. There we sat, my partner and me, two men, in a waiting room of women – a brave new world.

In he came, accompanied by a nurse. Smiles and handshakes. None of this, ‘how are you?’ business, which later I came to react to from others, quite a bit. Instead we went straight into it. ‘I thought you had the consequence of medication you were taking, but the biopsy has told me differently and I’m sorry to tell you that its breast cancer.’

‘What????’ ‘For **** sake! I, me, doesn’t get potentially terminal illnesses! I’m here on this earth to be by the side of those who have things like that. I’m the buddy of the man with AIDS. I’m the friend who stands with the carers of those with dementia. I’m the one who conducts the funerals of those who didn’t make it. BUT I am not the one who gets the finger!!!! Hasn’t god ordained it to be like that?

Worse news was to come. A mastectomy would be necessary. Perhaps further surgery to remove lymph glands. Then perhaps radiotherapy, chemotherapy and god knows what else. Partner and I look at each other, unable to mouth what we are feeling, but at least we are together in our grim silence.

Nigel and Roger

Nigel and Roger

CHAPTER 3

How on earth do single people; those without partners; those alone. How do they deal with that news? How do you focus, and even move forward following such news. It’s good having someone else there with you, better than nothing, but there comes a point when you are left alone, alone to cope with such challenging news. Your friend has their own home, their own life to lead; they cant stay with you for ever. How do you deal with the solitude after they have left, when the sympathetic phone calls haven’t helped, when you wake in the middle of the night and the horrors about your future hit you.

I immediately thought of my friend David who had lived with liver cancer for well over a year. He had not lacked visitors or phone calls, but who as I now realised, nevertheless, had much more time alone to cope with his condition after his visitors had gone.

Look, folks! There is an LGBT issue here. We are many – more of us in the 45+ bracket than in the 15 – 44 bracket. We are more than likely to be living alone. Perhaps a third of us will experience cancer. Many of us will die from it. Where are the mentors, the advocates, the befrienders, the social workers and nurses, who understand our distinctiveness, even our uniqueness, and can be there by our side to see us through. In the night watches, when I awoke and considered my position, I gave thanks that I had someone I could say ‘cuddle me’ to, and I thought of those others within our LGBT community who have to face all this alone because we have not mobilised our forces/resources to serve their needs.

CHAPTER 4

I’ve always been different and so not surprisingly my cancer would have to be different too; wouldn’t it! There are only about 300 men per year who get it and I expected that this would mean being left without support, but, hooray, I was wrong. Our first meeting with the breast cancer nurse was accompanied by a superb and informative booklet on breast cancer for men and I soon gladly came to realised that I was not being treated as an honorary woman, with a women’s condition, but as a man who just happened to be amongst a very small but increasing number of other men who are succumbing to the same condition as thousands of women.

That is not to say that there are not psychological issues which may be peculiar to men . I was told that some men have real problems coping with the sheer fact of their different cancer. Perhaps even some might wish they had prostate cancer rather than breast cancer; they at least would have a ‘man’s cancer’. I noticed even within myself that when I told people I left a short gap between the ‘I have’ and the ‘breast cancer’ part of my speech. Perhaps even I felt something not quite right about having it. I was shocked after surgery by how unwilling I was to look at my new self in the mirror, and, when I eventually did it, how upset I was by the sight.

I meet people who still do not know that men can get it too, and I suspect that some might even feel that I had done something wrong, like smoking, to get it. I would love to meet other men in the same situation, but so far, I have found none. Perhaps the enormity of their burden has led them to go to ground. I wonder then if there are any other gay men with the same condition and wonder if I could even be only one in this country.

CONCLUSION

And so it has gone on. The surgery is complete and we (thank god its a ‘we’) have decided on the treatment which is best for us in our situation. From now on, every day will be a bonus day but these days will not be like the other days before the diagnosis. I’m still discovering how you think positively about the future most of the time; how you make a continuously proactive response to living ; AND how you confidently take your place within the male gay community with only one nipple!!!!!!! All things are possible, eh?

Roger Newman