Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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“everyone my client met treated her with dignity and respect”

Susan, one of our volunteer advocates, gives us a moving account of supporting one older person affected by cancer:

I am a volunteer advocate from Getting Heard (formerly Oxfordshire Advocacy) and a Cancer Older People and Advocacy volunteer, and one of my partnerships had significant interactions with the multi-disciplinary and multi-professional team. At each interaction, I as the advocate, was made very welcome and at no time did my client or I feel rushed, intimidated or feel that my client’s views were not taken into account. My client was involved in all decisions and staff took her views and concerns very seriously when developing her management plan, and she and I recognised that this was holistic patient centred care. Interactions with professionals and all other staff was extremely positive, medical and nursing staff welcomed the advocate when the role and responsibilities were explained, recognising the emotional and practical support available for the patient.



The specialist nurse made the initial referral as she was aware that my client lacked support attending consultations. I supported my client when she attended the gynaecology outpatients department for her first consultation with the surgeon following a diagnosis of uterine cancer. My client was determined that she was not going to undergo chemotherapy and my role was to support her achieve her wishes. Both the surgeon and specialist nurse listened to my client and when I intervened to clarify what was being said and questioned whether she understood the impact of her decisions, both clinicians were supportive of my client’s wishes.    

I supported my client pre-operatively and interacted with the nursing and support staff. At the post-operative consultation following keyhole surgery, she was seen by the consultant gynaecologist when she was informed that the cancer was invasive and they had been unable to remove it completely. My role was to support my client reiterate to the consultant that she did not want chemotherapy but agreed to have radiotherapy.

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By her first oncology consultation my client’s physical condition had deteriorated and she had developed further symptoms, and the oncologist decided that she should have more investigations including a CT scan. By the second oncology consultation CT scan results indicated further spread, and the plan was for four sessions of palliative radiotherapy. My client asked me to attend a meeting at home with the hospice specialist nurse for moral support, at the meeting the specialist nurse discussed hospice support and pain management. I attended her first two radiotherapy sessions, however by the 2nd session she had increasing pain and discomfort, weakness, urinary and bowel symptoms. By attending the radiology department, I was able to give physical and emotional support and assisted my client discuss her concerns with the radiographers.


My client fell at home and was admitted to the local hospital where I visited her in A&E and on the ward, where I met kind and caring staff. She was too unwell to be transferred to the hospice and died soon after following a stroke.

I was so glad to support my client during her various medical interventions both at hospital and at home, in order to support her through her cancer experience. I was able to offer support, and help her navigate the system and help her ask those often difficult questions and understand the response from professionals. It was a privilege to meet so many kind and compassionate members of the multi-disciplinary team, everyone my client met treated her with dignity and respect and nothing was too much bother. Feedback from professionals regarding the experience of working with an advocate was always positive and it was recognised that a well-informed and well-supported and empowered patient facilitated a positive staff : patient relationship. It was also recognised that the advocate had the time to support their client when professional staff had limited time and that support was consistent and flexible.  

Susan Mackie Volunteer Advocate, Getting Heard (formerly Oxfordshire Advocacy)


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Leslie’s story

Leslie was referred by a family member as he was diagnosed to have cancer of the lungs and bowel. It was also recognised that he had moderate learning difficulties which affected him in making informed choices, he also struggled with reading, therefore found information hard to access. Initial contact was at his home to ensure that he felt able to voice his concerns in a safe and familiar environment. During the first meeting we were able to discuss all the various areas of his life, in order for me to ascertain any areas that the advocacy support could assist him in. Over the next couple of meetings we were able to establish that he was having difficulty in retaining the medical information that he was given via his monthly hospital consultant meetings. It was therefore agreed that I would attend and we would, prior to the meeting, write down any pending concerns or medical problems Leslie was experiencing.

Upon attending the appointment I became aware that Leslie’s nutritional calorie intake was a grave concern. We therefore agreed that I would assist him in exploring different types of liquid nutrition that he could take to enable his weight to remain fairly steady. Consequently until his health deteriorated considerably he was able to maintain his weight at a satisfactory level.


Unfortunately due to the nature of Leslie’s illness, his cancer being untreatable and terminal his needs have been continuously changing. As an advocate I have been able to accompany him on his journey. I was able to assist him with acquiring walking aids and having modifications made to his property such as extra railing support along the stair case.

More recently sadly, Leslie has deteriorated considerably and his social isolation has meant that he has been unable to meet his basic care needs. As a result I was able to help him identify various care package options. He is now receiving a care package at home, and I am still supporting him with his numerous hospital appointments. As his needs evolve my advocacy support will change. We are now currently identifying accommodation options, looking at various care homes and discussing his wishes with regards to palliative and end of life plans.

This clearly has been a very challenging journey for Leslie, particularly as he has been socially isolated and felt very alone. Advocacy support has allowed him to voice his fears and concerns and crucially ensure that he understands the procedures and transitions which sadly are imminent. Although advocacy support hasn’t altered the eventuality it has ensured he maintained his personal dignity and had respect and independence through a difficult time.

Aneesah Bana – Cancer Advocate, ICANN