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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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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Barrie’s story

Barrie attended one of our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project workshops at the recent Macmillan Cancer Voices Conference. Here he tells his story, gives us all food for thought and certainly impresses on us why advocacy support is and can be so vital:

I am a 68 year old man
I live on my own
In 2006 I was diagnosed with Stage 4  throat cancer
this entailed having my voice box removed and radio therapy for a few weeks
I no longer speak through my mouth but through my throat, using a plastic valve inserted in Larynx
It is very difficult and sometimes impossible to use a phone.
I was told there were benefits available for me.
Sitting in council offices was bad and a waste of time. The staff treated me, due to my ‘strange voice’ as retarded.
I had an IQ of 146
I ended up with a lot of throat infection.
In those early days I wish I had had Advocacy help and new patients have the same problem.
I was told by a Citizens Advice Bureau advisor that help was still available and for me to give them a ring, I call this the circle of confusion
Now I don’t ask anyone for help, If I cannot deal with it myself or through the computer I don’t bother.
But others need help.
Barrie