Dorset Macmillan Advocacy volunteer advocate Janet Lister describes her role and what it is she does to support older people affected by cancer:
I’ve taken on many volunteer roles since retiring, some of them more satisfying than others. But becoming an advocacy volunteer has turned out to be the most worthwhile volunteer role that I have ever been asked to play.
It has called upon a lifetime of personal experiences, of being faced with a diagnosis of cancer, of supporting family members and friends through a variety of difficult cancer treatments, of working with health care professionals caring for cancer patients in a hospital setting, all of which I expected would be important in my advocacy role.
But I have been overwhelmed by what I had not anticipated – the privilege of being allowed in to the private lives of my advocacy partners, to be told the most intimate details of their lives, their family and personal relationships, and to become a true support and ally in their difficult journey.
I find that the most important need of our partners is to talk – they need to express their feelings, fears, doubts, and worries to a friendly, non-partisan, non judgemental person.
I have found that these initial conversations may, in the beginning, raise minor concerns that seem easy to fix. But often, hidden away in what may seem harmless conversation, there are deeper concerns. Sometimes you have to intuit these conflicts, mentioned in passing, and feel confident to dig a little deeper. In this way you can help the person to reflect on their treatment choices, and to prepare for the many challenges that living with, and surviving, a cancer diagnosis brings
Of course, they may be situations where the prognosis is not so happy. Here also you can fill an important role in helping the patient and the family to come to terms with the decisions that might have to be made. Here, as with all discussions you have, it is important not to become too involved, or to bring your own feelings and opinions into the discussions.
It all sounds very difficult but I assure you, it is all worthwhile and you will get the gratitude of the patient, their friends and family in the end. To be allowed into what becomes a very intimate circle at such is a difficult time is a rare privilege which gives me much satisfaction.