Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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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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At the Staffordshire Dying Matters conference

Kath Curley of Cancer, Older People and Advocacy delivery partner Beth Johnson Foundation and Staffs & Wolves Cancer Advocacy and Support Project Manager shares a post recently published on their own project blog. She tells us about her attendance at a recent conference marking Dying Matters Week:

Dying Matters Week in Staffordshire was celebrated by a Palliative and End of Life Conference organised by University Hospitals of North Midlands on Thursday 11th  May. The Conference was entitled “I didn’t want that: Why patients’ wishes matter” and was attended by over 250 delegates from across the Midlands. BJF had a stand to promote the dementia and cancer advocacy projects and was therefore able to join the Conference.

The conference was packed

There were some eminent speakers including Dr Sara Russell, Head of Research and Clinical Innovation at Hospice UK, who showed a very thought provoking film from ZdoggMD; “Ain’t the way to die” which you can find here  

Sara’s message was that professionals should be asking “What matters to you?” rather than “What’s the matter with you?”

Amanda Cheesley, Professional Lead Long Term Conditions and End of Life Care with the Royal College of Nursing followed on and very much reiterated Sarah’s messages.  She opened by talking about the “essence” of the person – who we are, what we are – doesn’t go away when someone  dies or is dying. We should look at what is important to people emotionally, physically and spiritually.

 Jan Cooper, Regional Liaison Advisor at the General Medical Council discussed the End of Life/ Palliative Care Guidance. Decision making should be a partnership and this will require a change of culture. At one time professionals made the decisions, then it swung to patients making the decision but it should be co-production – joint decision after listening, discussing and sharing information.

 

After lunch there were two more “professionals “   presentations from Claire Henry – the Chief Executive Officer of the National Council for Palliative Care and Dr Katherine Bristowe , a post-doctoral  researcher at the Cicely Saunders Institute, Kings College, London. She has a particular interest in widening access to palliative care, and recently worked on the ACCESSCare project (funded by Marie Curie), a national qualitative interview study of LGBT people facing advanced illness and bereavement.

At this Conference the best was most definitely left until the end. The Conference closed with a presentation from Tommy Whitelaw, Project Engagement Lead for Dementia Carer Voices. He was a carer for his late mother Joan for 5 years as she had vascular dementia. He told us about his beautiful mother, Joan Whitelaw, NOT the disruptive lady in bed 6! He talked about his experiences with health professionals during his time as  a carer and the importance of reassuring carers that they are doing a wonderful job. 

Tommy travels across Scotland to raise awareness of the impact of dementia on families and the importance of empowering carers to carry out their difficult but vital role. Lessons to be learnt for people caring for someone with any terminal condition. There was not a dry eye in the Conference!     

Joe Potts, Macmillan End of Life Care Facilitator, University Hospitals of North Midlands  is to be congratulated on a stimulating, thought provoking conference – a job really well done. 

Kath Curley, Staffs & Wolves Cancer Advocacy and Support Project Manager


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Peter’s story, part 2

Last September, Helen Vernon, advocate from Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre, wrote a blog post telling us about Peter (not his real name). Helen provided Peter with the advocacy support that meant so much to him. You can find the first part of Peter’s story here. Today, we find out what happened next…

When I first met Peter, he told me he had terminal lung cancer and he had 12 months to live.  He contacted us because there were some issues with his accommodation and he wanted to resolve them with the housing association rather than waste his time moving, as mentioned in my earlier blog post.   He was very happy with the advocacy support and so a few months later when he was having health problems he contacted me again. 

Peter asked me to accompany him to an appointment, which I agreed to do.  Unfortunately, his health deteriorated suddenly after Christmas and the planned surgery was cancelled.   He obviously felt a sense that he needed to put things in order so he asked me to write a will for him.  As an individual can write his or her own will, it was agreed within the team that I could do this for him.  I explained to Peter that I was not giving legal advice but simply documenting his wishes and having them witnessed.  In fact, there was very little to leave and it will be used to pay for his funeral.

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Peter was admitted to hospital then a hospice, discharged home and readmitted.  At each visit, I could see he was becoming frailer.  One of his relatives lived abroad and I kept her up to date with his condition at his request.  Before the final admission to the hospice, he spoke to me about wishing to go to a nursing home, as it was important to him to have his own television in the room and he felt the hospice was a dark place.  I agreed to visit him after the weekend and prior to this visit, I researched the availability of nursing beds in the area.  I arrived at the hospice and spoke to the nurse about his condition.  She told me to be prepared as Peter was not in the same condition as when I had seen him on the Friday.  She was right, he had deteriorated even further and his usual spark had faded.   

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Over the past three years I have worked with lots of service users who have been given this diagnosis and sadly, I have closed several cases because the person has passed away.  However, for one reason or another this has been the first time I have had cause to visit someone in his or her final days in the hospice. Perhaps because this gentleman’s family all live abroad and so he did not have the same support networks, it was even more important that advocacy was there for him.  I spoke to the nursing staff earlier this week and his relative was on her way to be with him.

He once told me “advocacy gave me a lot of hope that things would improve and they did improve” and “advocacy kept me going”.  I hope in many small ways we have helped him along his journey.

Peter’s niece called me this morning to tell me that he sadly passed away on Saturday morning with his family at his side.

Helen Vernon, Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre

(Our thanks to Helen for this moving account of Peter’s end of life story and the obvious impact on Helen herself,  Marie, OPAAL)


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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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My cancer journey

Our thanks to Rod, who shares his story with us below:

Hello my name is Rod and I have recovered from cancer. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was a bit of a surprise but when my wife told me that my left testicle felt like a walnut I thought I’d better get this checked out.

I had surgery to remove the testicle, a very quick operation by the way, and it only took a day before I was walking around again. What I found most difficult to deal with was waiting to find out, I found that more difficult than the treatment. I eventually went to see the consultant and he informed me that the testicle was cancerous and that I would have to undergo a course of treatment. The treatment made me feel sick all of the time and after the first session I got back home and threw up! They prescribed me a course of anti sickness tablets but they made it worse! In all honesty I wasn’t scared about having cancer, my friends were more worried than I was. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t happy about having cancer, but I couldn’t change it, I just had to live with it.

Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that how you live your life has to end. Friends tried to wrap me up in cotton wool and protect me. I was a bit physically limited in what I could do (feeling weak all the time) but I wouldn’t let it stop me from going out and enjoying myself.

The consultant said that is was possible that the cancer could spread through my lymphatic system so the course of treatment was shortish but aggressive. What surprised me the most was still being able to have a physical relationship with my wife, which resulted in the birth of our twins, one of each, I was dead chuffed.

A while later I thought something was wrong again, as I was having constant diarrhoea. Consequently I had a endoscopy, which found nothing, and then a colonoscopy, where various polyps were removed. When I next saw the consultant he informed me that they were in the early stages of change. This time I was a bit worried, as this is what my father had died from. As it turns out I was fortunate, as this was caught early and very recently I received the all clear.

 

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Rod

My volunteering

I am currently unemployed and signed off until April 2017. As a consequence I have plenty of time to spare. I was looking through the doit.org website and came across the peer advocate position, with Sefton Pensioners Advocacy. Certainly when my father was diagnosed with cancer there seemed little or no help or support, which really hadn’t changed that much when I was diagnosed.  I felt that through my own cancer journey and other members of my family I had something to offer in terms of support and guidance.

I have had two clients so far and they have very different stories. Although they are my clients I prefer to just think of them as people that I am supporting. They have both been unique, facing different issues and challenges. One client has already recovered from one form of cancer, only to find out that she has another. There are other complications as well, mostly to do with chronic pain, which she is having treatment for. The main issue this lady has is with mobility, as she had no blue badge she found it difficult to get around as she was limited to where she could park. I successfully applied for her blue badge, which has completely changed things for her, she can now drive to the local village and park outside the supermarket to do her shopping. She is really, really pleased with this as it has given her a greater sense of freedom. Her details were forwarded to the DWP and now she and her husband both receive attendance allowance. Now they can afford to have the house cleaned and garden maintained, which is very important to them both.

My second client has been completely different. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had spread to his brain and his diagnosis was terminal. His eyesight was also failing. His behaviour was challenging at times but a lot of this was sheer and utter frustration at not being able to express himself fully. I first visited him in hospital, with a colleague, and his behaviour was challenging. To be fair he had been in hospital for the best part of a month. Eventually he was discharged and he returned home and I was able to support him in terms of getting there, making sure a hospital bed was installed (he had been sleeping on the floor) and ensuring food was delivered (thank you Foodbank). However this only lasted one night and he was then readmitted to hospital. He was then reassessed and admitted to a nursing home. He was much happier with this as he had the space of the whole lower ground floor and a greater sense of freedom. I was able to support him in terms of getting more clothes and taking him to his property, to help him sort through his important documents and things.

He was initially worried about his funeral and also getting in contact with his estranged daughter. On investigation it became apparent that he already had a funeral plan. I helped him to make contact with his daughter again and also arranged for him to have regular communion. During the days before his death he deteriorated drastically, not communicating at all. As he was on morphine every three hours this was hardly surprising. Although I knew he had terminal cancer I still found it a shock when his nursing home informed me that he had died at 6:30am that morning. There were things that I still wanted to guide him with. I have an immense feeling of frustration that I was not able to help as much as I could, but sometimes things just work out that way. The final thing I could do for him was to make sure his daughter was aware of his final wishes and thus I made sure to communicate these to her.

I attended his funeral to pay my last respects.SPAC

Advocacy for me so far has been, challenging, frustrating but ultimately rewarding and will continue to be so.

Rod, Sefton Pensioners’ Advocacy Centre


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One Man’s Experience Touching the Nation

Today Jen Rimmer from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy (Dorset Advocacy) tells us about the inspirational Steve Hewlett:

Steve Hewlett’s recent interviews on Radio 4’s PM programme about his experience of cancer have been widely acclaimed. Steve is a writer, broadcaster and media consultant – he is also the editor of Radio 4’s Media Show and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in March 2016.

From the outset Steve understood that his treatment was always going to be about extending lifespan rather than curative and Steve has been open and frank about his feelings and experiences both with his family, colleagues and the nation!

As a seasoned journalist, maybe it comes as second nature to him to research and report on his cancer experience but the resultant articles and particularly the interviews with PM’s Eddie Mair have provoked a strong response in those that have heard them with listeners reporting things like remaining sitting in their cars on their driveways to hear the interviews in their entirety. Others have commented on the positive effect of hearing a man (or men as Steve’s 3 grown sons are also interviewed on one occasion) discuss his feelings so openly.

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Steve in his cold cap during chemo

From the outset, Steve’s experience has been characterised by choices. Initially choosing the best hospital and treatment and, latterly investigating the possibility of participating in clinical trials.

Faced with a terminal diagnosis and potentially a short window of opportunity (he was told that, left untreated, he would lose the ability to eat or drink within 8-10 weeks) Steve describes himself as being “reduced to tears” but the inefficiencies of the NHS administrative process in securing appointments.

At his very first appointment at his local hospital, Steve describes being seen by a Registrar who suggested a treatment regime but made no mention of an additional drug that Steve had been expected to be offered based on his own research. So Steve politely mentioned it. Leaving the room, a brief corridor discussion between Registrar and Consultant led to the Registrar returning and offering to include the additional drug. On questioning the Registrar agreed that research does suggest that, although patients may tolerate the treatment regime less well, the additional drug provides a 10% improvement in response. Steve comments wryly that 10% seems a lot more significant when faced with a prognosis like his but his main point here is that he felt aggrieved not to have been offered the choice. Unsurprisingly this hospital was not in the end Steve’s choice for his treatment, opting instead to attend the Royal Marsden in London.

The Macmillan Cancer Nurse Specialist present during one interview underlined the importance of taking a second person with you to appointments not least for emotional support but also to be a second pair of ears. Steve agreed that this was great advice but wondered how his 80 year old mother would cope with this process if he found it so hard. “Would she have been able to access the information, would she have been able to get on and off the phone chasing her appointments and ultimately challenge the doctors? How many people just go along with it all passively?”

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Here we see an educated, articulated and self-advocating individual describe his experience of navigating the cancer pathway and struggling. As advocates we traditionally support those less able to have their voices heard but Steve’s testimony makes the case for cancer advocacy clear. Even when health care professionals are doing their very best, many of us would find advocacy support invaluable if faced with a difficult diagnosis.

Find Steve’s interviews here on the BBC’s iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03m4q5s/episodes/downloads

Follow Steve on Twitter: @steve_hewlett

Jen Rimmer, Dorset Advocacy


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I have gained a lot from her and she has made me stronger just by listening to her

In today’s Volunteers Week story we hear from Audrey one of our volunteer peer advocates who supported Eleanor who had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer:

Eleanor is a very strong person, she is coping with her cancer as well as keeping her family happy. I really do admire her strength. She has a strong family around her. Although she is sad her two sons will not be around she does have contact with them. She just wanted to sort her house out; she wanted to decorate and renew as she is leaving her house to her daughter. This she was able to do with the extra benefits she was entitled to.

She is suffering with lung cancer and it’s terminal. Her treatment this time around is harsh, she is losing more time to the treatment than she is to the cancer. She has decided she is not having any more treatment unless it will give her more time. I have visited her at home and will continue to do so.

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Audrey

She was referred to our service through a relative of mine who knew we did something with cancer advocacy. She was worried about how she was going to manage on the money she had as she had lots of things she wanted to do before the cancer stopped her.

When I first met her I realised we knew each other by sight, but not by name. She was okay with this and so was I. We talked about times gone by when we were both younger and got to know each other quite well. She always asks how I am when I go and visit. She never sits and talks about herself unless I bring up the subject by asking what she has been up to; hospital visits or appointments she is waiting for.

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I have gained a lot from her and she has made me stronger just by listening to her. She never feels sorry for herself even when the treatment has her down. She still manages a smile. She has had her money sorted and has done her house the way she wanted. She has had a couple of holidays which is what she wanted. She is sad at the minute, because of the treatment she has lost days. She could have been doing so much if she did not feel so tired. She is pain free but struggles to breathe.

I still see Eleanor regularly to give my support to her through her good and bad days. I am there when she needs me to help her.

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You can read Elinor’s story in full along with Audrey’s view in our publication Every Step of the Way which can be accessed here

 

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL