In today’s post Sherry, a peer volunteer advocate with Sandwell Advocacy’s Sandwell Cancer Older People Advocacy (SCOPA) project, tells us her volunteering story:
My name is Sherry and I have been a volunteer at Sandwell Advocacy since March 2015. I was a staff nurse for over 45 years and when I retired in 2014 I was adamant I was going to do something productive with my time. I have grandchildren who I adore but having had a very demanding career I wanted to be more than “Nanny” in my retirement. I trained in Chester then worked in plastic surgery, something I thoroughly enjoyed. My final working years were spent as an ophthalmic nurse in Sandwell. Shortly before I retired I was diagnosed with breast cancer, this was a shock to me as I had always attended screening and knew exactly what to look for. I received radiotherapy and chemotherapy and continued to work throughout. I am still under surveillance and attend yearly mammograms but “Once a nurse, always a nurse” I continue to stay busy.
I met Paddy and Juanita at a Cancer wellbeing fayre hosted by the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals and they told me about the exciting new project they were working on, supporting people over the age of fifty who are affected by cancer – a perfect opportunity for me to put my skills and experience to good use. I took part in the training and was soon partnered with a woman who had agreed to advocacy as she had some housing issues. My own experience helped me enormously as I had a good idea of what my partner was going through emotionally and I soon developed an extensive knowledge of housing policy. Although the partnership has ended I feel I have made a very positive contribution to my partner’s journey and she knows she can come back to SCOPA if she feels she needs our help again. With the knowledge I gained I was recently able to support one of my elderly neighbours who needed to move out of his flat whilst major work was being carried out. I wouldn’t have known about such things prior to becoming an advocate. I have also been instrumental in getting a gas supply to the flats where I live in order that I (and other tenants) can manage our heating more suitably. Overnight storage heaters are not the best if you need to adjust the temperature frequently as a result of medication. They do say you learn something new every day.
Throughout my career I had experience of advocates and their role but it has been challenging and very rewarding to be on the other side of the relationship. My knowledge of the NHS and hospital policies has helped me no end and I have enjoyed visiting hospitals with my partner who was not confident in this environment. I was able to ask a lot of questions on her behalf to ensure she was fully able to make informed choices.
I now have a new partnership with a husband and wife, they also have housing issues although totally different. I have enjoyed running around for them and making phone calls to assist them in downsizing to a more manageable property. They appreciate my matter of fact approach and particularly the fact that I have time, something they haven’t always got.
I haven’t limited my volunteering to advocacy practice, I have joined the Local Cancer Champion Board as I feel I have professional experience which will benefit the project. I have also ventured down to Vauxhall in London with Juanita, the volunteer coordinator, to attend a National Champions Board meeting at Macmillan HQ – that was a long and tiring day but I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with other champions and staff on the programme. I have taken part in the national evaluation of the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy Programme by BRAP and was also involved in Working Together for Change led by Helen Sanderson Associates which again drew on other aspects of my experience.
I would recommend volunteering to anyone like me who wants to give something back. Additionally for any retired professionals who want to do something similar to what they have done as a career, this is an ideal opportunity to be part of a valued and respected team. If anyone out there is thinking about becoming a peer advocate I would recommend you talk to someone who is volunteering and find out first-hand what it’s like, I think you will get a positive response.
Sherry, Sandwell Cancer Older People & Advocacy