Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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Thanking our volunteers in Dorset

We were delighted to be able to thank our volunteers around the time of Volunteers Week for the energy and enthusiasm they give to helping people affected by cancer in Dorset.  Staff from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy delivery partners Help and Care and Dorset Advocacy along with Macmillan Partnership Quality Lead Paula Bond and Macmillan Volunteer Services Manager Sam Hudspith joined the volunteers for a very informal cream tea.

The volunteers were then presented with some donated goodies as well as certificates of appreciation from OPAAL.  The garden at The Grove Hotel in Bournemouth, which is open to cancer patients and others with serious illness, was a perfect setting for the afternoon on what must have been the hottest day of the year.

Some of the group in a shady corner

Kathleen Gillett, Coordinator – Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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I will be able to concentrate on getting well…

With Carers Week underway we thought it might be useful not only to acknowledge and appreciate the support carers provide but also to recognise that sometimes its the carer themselves who get a diagnosis of cancer.

Caring responsibilities can be exhausting enough but imagine the additional strain of a new diagnosis. That’s exactly what happened to John and I recount his story from our Every Step of the Way publication here:

“My name is John. I was born in 1953. I live with my wife who is the same age as me, in fact, we are only a month apart in age. We live in a suburb of a town. I have been a carer to my wife since she had a stroke when she was in her 30’s. That was a terrible thing to happen to someone so young. It left her unable to read or write and her speech is very difficult to understand.

At the beginning of September of 2013 I was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. For the next few weeks I didn’t receive any prognosis or treatment for this condition. I was told that I would be told what was wrong with
me at an appointment with the Consultant due in mid-October at the hospital.

I went to that appointment with my wife. I was told that I had a terminal cancer of the throat. I went quite numb. However, my wife wasn’t convinced. She had been a nurse and some of the things that were being said to me were not quite ringing true with her. She tried to explain her feeling to the nurse on reception but she just turned her eyes up. My wife noticed that there were 2 appointments for Smith on the same day.

I was very upset by the news and couldn’t think straight. My wife was doing the best she could but her own problems were not helping her. One day the Stroke Association home visitor called. She told us about the cancer advocacy
service and said that she would make a referral to them. This she did. In the meantime the Doctors did realise that they had told me some of the wrong information. I am not clear how this happened. However, my prognosis had
changed and they were now saying that my cancer was not necessarily terminal.

Richard called to see me quite soon after that. He was an advocate. I explained my position to him. I told him that I suffered from asbestosis and emphysema and that the Doctors were saying that an operation may not be possible
as the Doctors were concerned about the effects that an anaesthetic may have on my lungs and kidneys.
I told Richard all about my problems and those of my wife. I was feeling a little better about things as now there was a ray of hope. I had another appointment coming up and would contact Richard after I had been seen.

I went to see the consultant again in November. They said that I could go into hospital for an operation. I am now in the hospital, but, unfortunately, the site of the operation has become infected and it looks like I will be here for some time.

My wife does visit me but it’s a very difficult journey for her as it’s a long way to go. She does drive but doesn’t find it easy. We have a great deal of problem with communication because I have had a tracheostomy.
I didn’t manage to get around to telling Richard that I was going into hospital before I went. I had told him that I would let him know what was happening but things moved very quickly and I didn’t get back to him.

Peer advocate Richard

My wife has found it increasingly difficult to deal with things at home. She seems to be getting letters from the hospital that didn’t make any sense. This was particularly difficult due to her communication problems. She can’t pick up the phone and easily have a conversation with someone. She began to wonder if they were still mixing me up with someone else. She has also had letters from the benefits department asking me to make an appointment to see if I am still eligible for benefits. She can’t deal with this at all.

However, the good news is that Richard had been made aware of my current position. He has contacted my wife and is going to go and see her this week and help her sort things out. That will be a great weight off my mind. I will be able to concentrate on getting well and not worrying about her and what’s going on at home.

The help from the cancer advocacy service is for people ‘affected’ by cancer and not just those that have it. Richard’s input is of great help. He understands my wife’s condition and makes allowances for her communication problems.
I don’t know how long I will be in hospital but I am very reassured that Richard is going to help at home.”

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL


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Advocacy support is unfortunately still relatively unknown..

Today Kathleen Gillett of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy argues that advocacy support has a role to play in breaking the negative cycle of cancer care:

The Patients Association has chaired a working group on ‘Transforming the cycle of cancer care’.

The working group argues that ‘currently there is a negative cycle in cancer care, where a short-term approach leads to rising costs in cancer, makes fewer resources available, provides inadequate patient support which re-enforces the need for a short-term ‘just managing’ approach.’  It proposes ways to break the negative cycle.

To address this challenge, The Patients Association and Bristol-Myers Squibb are working alongside experts and patients from across the cancer space to identify new models of service delivery, showcase best practice, and provide real improvements in patient care.

The report discussion includes sections and recommendations on:
Identifying, incentivising and implementing best practice
Developing effective prevention strategies
Implementing best practice in the early diagnosis of cancer
Delivering timely access to treatment
Engaging patients in delivering innovative care pathways

To my mind the report blurs the issue of patient engagement and involvement in service improvement and that of individual patients who are ‘engaged’ and active in their own healthcare journey. Both are important and worthwhile while distinct from each other.

I think that the argument for ‘engaging patients in delivering innovative care pathways’ reads like a explanation of the benefits of independent advocacy support:

‘Educating patients with cancer about self-management and empowering them to play an active role in the decision-making process was considered to likely result in an improvement of patients’ knowledge, understanding of their condition, adherence to treatment and engagement in their healthcare. Whilst not all patients will want to play an active role in their treatment and care, it is important to provide patients with the opportunity and the choice to make their preferences clear and also tell us what a “good” treatment outcome looks like for them.

‘The Working Group described these users as “activated patients” who can lead the charge for the adoption of best practice care. According to Working Group attendees, the evidence suggests that “activated” and informed patients use an average of 20% fewer resources than less informed counterparts.’

Advocacy support is unfortunately still relatively unknown and it is not uncommon to read policy reports in both health and social care spheres that appear to describe it and recommend it without ever using the term. I believe that independent advocacy support and particularly that provided by peer volunteer advocates has a role to play in breaking the negative cycle of cancer care. It can certainly be preventative and facilitate timely access to treatment in addition to empowering patients. I would like to see it recognised as an integral part of the cancer care pathway, recognised as best practice and implemented nationally.

Kathleen Gillett, Coordinator Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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Be Bold for Change on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and the campaign theme is Be Bold for Change.  Big Lottery Fund are speaking to women who have made a big change in their lives and their communities.  Our volunteer peer advocates make a tremendous contribution, choosing to give their time to support their peers because they know that they can use their personal experience of cancer to make a difference to other older people’s lives.

 

Today we’re focusing attention on Claire’s Story, from our recent publication Time: Our Gift to You, which features volunteer peer advocates talking about why they volunteer, and what they themselves gain from their volunteering experience.  Claire has used her own experience of breast cancer to support Sally, her advocacy partner who has the same diagnosis.

Claire’s volunteering story:

“Last year, I decided to volunteer as a peer advocate in Oxfordshire because I could see at first hand, as I was going through my treatment, that there were many people who were struggling to find their way through the healthcare system in our area and to access the support they needed. It seemed obvious to me that a person who has been treated for cancer is potentially in a very strong position to support another person going through the same or similar treatment and experience.

One of the older people affected by cancer that I’ve supported is Sally (not her real name). She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and was referred to Oxfordshire Advocacy by her specialist breast nurse. Sally lives alone, struggles to get out and had become very isolated and depressed. When I first met her, she talked often about the diagnosis being the “final straw” and I recognised many of the feelings that I had felt when I was first diagnosed: anger, fear, sadness, even despair.

In the first few weeks when I visited Sally at her home, we often would just talk and share experiences and I know that she really appreciated that someone had taken the time to sit and listen and talk. I knew that when you are first diagnosed with cancer you do get quite a long appointment slot with your consultant and your specialist nurse, but you are in a state of shock and you can’t really take things in, and you are certainly not able to talk through how you are feeling. You need lots of time to process what is happening to you and it is weeks later when you are ready to really think about what is happening to you.

Since then, I have been able to help Sally in a number of ways. For example, I contacted Breast Cancer Care, I knew how good they were from my own experience, and ordered a number of information leaflets for her – some on treatments she had been advised to have, specific information on lymphedema and some on other issues such as her benefits entitlement. Sally suffers from cataracts as well and so I made sure I ordered the information in large print so that she could read the text.

Sally had a specific issue with one of her drugs that was making her feel unwell – I recognised the issue because I had suffered something similar – so I printed some information from the Macmillan Cancer Support website. Sally doesn’t have a computer or access to the internet. I took it to her and read it through for her. I also helped her prepare some questions about this for her next GP appointment and as a result she was able to discuss the issue with her doctor and get the drug changed to minimise the side effects.

Most recently I was able to help Sally with her application for a one-off Macmillan support grant – she wanted to use the money to help with her heating oil. She had being finding it difficult to fill in the form and so she dictated to me what she wanted to say in her application and I was able to write it down for her and I could use my experience to help with the spellings of all the drugs she was taking! She said that receiving the money was very important to her as it eased her worries about putting the heating on in the winter.

I hope that I have managed to convey that working with Sally has also been very rewarding for me. Cancer treatment is often quite technical and complicated and over time you are forced to become quite an expert in the healthcare system and how to get support. I am really glad to be able to put my experience to good use.”

Read more about the inspirational volunteers who are being bold for change on behalf of and alongside their peers here

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL


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Emotional support needs are growing

What information and support needs matter most to people affected by cancer? Today Kathleen Gillett of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, (DMA) tells us about changing needs and a greater requirement for emotional support:

Cancer Information and Support Services (CISS) are changing – at least that is the finding of a recent study of the Macmillan CISS which has involved a partnership with the Mental Health Foundation.  A workshop at last autumn’s Macmillan Professionals Conference presented the findings of research into the role of provision of information and support.  Macmillan CISS services are very varied with some operated by teams of staff and volunteers in large purpose built facilities, often on hospital sites, and others provided by a single part time worker.

Dorset Macmillan GPs Dr Paul Barker and Dr Simon Pennel with Kathleen Gillett of DMA

Dorset Macmillan GPs Dr Paul Barker and Dr Simon Pennel with Kathleen Gillett of DMA

The trend has been for people affected by cancer to be less in need of information and more in need of emotional support. A YouGov survey found that 83% of patients said that ‘being listened to’ is the most important thing.  If people are seeking more emotional support how are the CISS services reflecting this change and how are the service providers (staff and volunteers) themselves enabled to give this support without a negative impact on themselves?  Answers to these points continue to be developed by a working group of Information Managers within Macmillan.

Kathleen Gillett

Kathleen Gillett

Discussions during the workshop revealed a range of interpretations as to what constitutes emotional support and how to offer it.  A weekly coffee morning style drop in could offer low level psychological support in the view of one participant from a community palliative care team.  Ensuring that ‘all the patients have my phone number’ was seen by a nurse as being a way of providing emotional support. Another participant noted that patients with identified needs may sometimes decline a referral to psychological support because of unfamiliarity with the term and fear of the word ‘psychological’.

I made sure to explain to the participants of my discussion group the way in which peer volunteer advocacy can provide low level and ongoing emotional support. Not only can advocacy partners ventilate on occasion and be sure of being listened to but they can build a trusting relationship over time with their volunteer and know that they will not be judged as they share their worries and feelings.

Kathleen Gillett, Macmillan Project Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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The system is impossibly difficult to navigate..

Kathleen Gillett of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy (DMA) tells us about the acknowledgement that someone is needed to act as the “glue in the system”:

At the 2016 Macmillan Professionals national conference which I attended last autumn Fran Woodard, Executive Director of Policy and Impact, Macmillan Cancer Support, spoke about personal experience of cancer in her family and said that the system is impossibly difficult to navigate as treatment gets more complex and people are living with more co-morbidities.  Her welcome address was about workforce. She said there is a need for a focus on coordination, navigation and support with one person who is the ‘glue in the system’.

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A new role has been trialled in some parts of the country titled Macmillan Support Worker and a number of these posts will be funded by Macmillan in Dorset over the coming year.  Support Workers will be based in hospital Trusts alongside clinical staff and there will be some flexibility for each Trust to define their role and which cancer pathways they will support.

During break time I spoke with Simon Philips, Executive Director of Strategy and Performance, Macmillan Cancer Support, about how the advocacy service might mesh with the new Support Worker roles in Dorset. I am hopeful that the Support Workers will have a remit to know about what support is available in the voluntary and community sector.  We will offer them an opportunity to meet the peer volunteer advocates and hear directly about the difference advocacy makes to older people and carers.

Simon Phillips Executive Director of Strategy and Performance MCS and Kathleen Gillett DMA

Simon Philips and Kathleen Gillett attempt a selfie

Simon asked me about volunteer retention and whether we had any problems keeping volunteers. I was glad to be able to tell him that we still have on the team several of the volunteers we recruited for our pilot phase in 2012.  The size of our volunteer team is growing every year because despite a few volunteers retiring or going on to other roles such as hospital governor the majority are staying because they are so passionately committed to their roles.  They always arrive for their informal interview with a high level of motivation but once they are trained and ‘matched’ with an adovacy partner that motivation only increases as they see the real difference they are making to people’s lives. No two advocacy partnerships are the same and so the volunteers tackle the challenges that each new case brings with great energy.  They frequently tell us of the emotional rewards that they gain from the role.

As a service we benefit enormously from retaining a team of trained peer volunteer advocates that has increasing experience. In fact at our most recent volunteer networking forum at Help and Care my colleague Jo Lee and I were completely left out of most of the discussion while new and more seasoned advocates got to grips with a case study.  Could peer volunteer advocates work closely with the new Support Workers to be ‘the glue in the system’ that Fran would like to see?

Can you see peer advocates as part of the answer? Let us know what you think.

Kathleen Gillett, Macmillan Project Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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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