Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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The transition from professional to volunteer which brings a wealth of expertise

The volunteers who have shared their stories in Time: Our Gift to You come from all walks of life but I felt it was significant that several were retired Health or Social Care Professionals.   I wanted to know more about what motivates them to train as an advocate so I asked Mike Goodman, a newly retired Clinical Nurse Specialist who joined Dorset Macmillan Advocacy last year, why he volunteers and what he feels former Health Professionals in particular can bring to the role. Kathleen Gillett, Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

‘I was interested in becoming an advocate because, despite being retired, I still have an interest in helping people live with and recover from a diagnosis of cancer. After many years as a health professional you do build up a wealth of expertise and numerous medical contacts which it seems a waste to suddenly abandon just because you retire. The transition from professional to volunteer is a tricky one and it can be rather easy to slip back into a formal or professional approach to a situation rather than acting and speaking as a lay person – or simply imagining being the patient. However empathetic professionals think they are, because they have been trained/educated and because they are busy they quickly slip into “professional” mode and forget just what it is like being a confused, slightly scared, often lonely recipient of health care services.

Mike Goodman

I am sure advocates can be effective whether they have been cancer patients themselves, or have been the carer of someone with cancer or have been health care professionals. All those experiences will enable you to be a help and support. They would all bring different skills and abilities to the many and varied problems that the cancer partner is grappling with. Probably the greatest skill lies with the Macmillan Senior Advocate or Volunteer Coordinator in choosing which advocate to link up with each new partner.

Health Care professionals do have the ability to understand how the wheels turn in a hospital department or what a GP really needs to know in order to change the experience for a patient who is in a crisis. They will understand that it is hard to get something done on a Friday afternoon when most departments in a hospital are winding down for the weekend or that a referral between teams will have to go through an MDT meeting before a decision is made. Explaining that there is no simple blood test or screening process for some cancers comes as a shock to some people in the community who are reading the tabloids and grasping at every tiny news item that has the word cancer in its headline.

Retired professionals can play an important role in advocacy but, at the end of the day, it is that human touch, that word of encouragement, that listening ear that every person affected by cancer needs and wants and that is a role that every advocate seeks to fulfil.’

Mike Goodman, retired CNS.

Our thanks to Mike for sharing his thoughts.


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International Volunteer Day is this week

OPAAL‘s Chief Executive Kath Parson has recently spent a lot of time in conversation with some of the fabulous volunteers we have supporting the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme.  Since this week sees International Volunteer Day on 5th December we thought in this blog post we’d let our volunteers do the talking:

“Makes a real difference to those we support. It ticks lots of boxes for me, I wanted to continue to use skill, experience & knowledge to help others, to make a positive difference to people’s lives.”

“I want to help people affected by cancer, and am happy to help people through the ‘cancer experience’. For me it’s all about putting something back, I was well cared for and I’m aware that a lot of other people are not so fortunate.”

“Because I believe I can make a real difference, I can help people practically & personally. I have a good idea of what people are going through. I can help them with their concerns or fears for the future. I enjoy being part of a team, and I enjoy the training offered to us all.”

“I feel I can relate to my advocacy partner very well due to my own experiences. I find it useful to have something in common with my partner in addition to the cancer. I am an empathetic person, a good listener and able to support others to express their concerns & worries.”

“Want to help people affected by cancer because I feel there is a gap in services to support people personally and allowing their voice to be heard and express their own feelings, wishes & concerns. Someone to ‘be there for them’. Lonely experience for Older People Affected by Cancer.”

“I enjoy being with Cancer, Older People and Advocacy staff; like helping other people. It’s a fantastic opportunity to give something back, my Grandad was lucky, he had me. Too many people have no one to help them.”

“I want to be able to support someone in need of support at a difficult time in their lives. I have the right skills & attitude to offer this support. In doing so the reward for me will be to feel I am available to support them when they need someone.”

 “I have a disabled son and husband at home and I regard my volunteering time as my time, a time for me to give something back to support others who have no one else to help them. In return I get out of the house, meet some amazing people and am able to work closely with my fellow volunteers as part of a team. We also socialise a lot so this helps me to keep in touch with my local community. It saves me from becoming isolated due to my carer’s role.”

Many, many thanks to our volunteers who contributed these quotes.

If you are an older person who has been affected by cancer, are in one of our delivery areas and are interested in becoming a peer volunteer advocate or would like to get involved in another way, why not get in touch?

Marie McWilliams, OPAAL

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“I’m keen to get started”

Sandwell Advocacy’s Juanita Williams writes about recent training sessions for potential new volunteer advocates.

As Sandwell Advocacy’s Volunteer Co-ordinator I led our recent training sessions ably supported by the very experienced Paddy Elmore who volunteered his time to support me.

Juanita and Paddy

Juanita and Paddy

The volunteers all have experience of cancer in some form or another and come from a variety of backgrounds, each of them bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to our sessions. They have working life experience of housing and care homes, nursing, social work, pensions and finance – all valuable assets to share with our group.

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Our wonderful new volunteers

The training covered what we do at Sandwell Advocacy: understanding advocacy, the role of an advocate, different types of advocacy, communication, confidentiality, boundaries, working with professionals, dilemmas, personal safety, lone working, case studies and scenarios; the majority of which was specifically related to cancer issues.

It took place over two days and proved interesting; whilst they had lots of life skills, their knowledge of advocacy was limited and this led to great conversation during the case studies and exercises as they considered their potential roles.  They have all confirmed they still wish to become advocates on the project even though they acknowledge it may not be an easy ride!  They are keen to support others on their cancer journey and want to use their experiences to ensure things go as smoothly as they possibly can.

Sandwell Advocacy Logo

As referrals are now coming in, it won’t be long before they are matched with their partners and start making a real difference to the lives of older people affected by cancer.  We will be on hand to support them along the way and are currently planning further sessions to support them in the future.  The good news is that other volunteers are preparing to start their training as soon as times can be found to suit them.

One of our volunteers said she found the sessions “very informative and certainly gave me something to think about. The Macmillan literature will prove useful in the future, particularly the contacts and organisations. All in all I enjoyed it and am keen to get started.”

Juanita Williams

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Training our volunteers

Age UK Gateshead‘s four new volunteer advocates recently enjoyed a half-day training session entitled ‘What is Advocacy?

Age UK Gateshead Logo RGB

The session, delivered by Alan Davison Advocacy Co-ordinator at Age UK Gateshead, aimed to equip the advocates with a basic knowledge of the principles underpinning successful advocacy. They discussed a number of case studies in group work and were able to demonstrate at the end of the session that learning had been effective and had achieved what it had set out to achieve.

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(l to r) Volunteer advocates Kenneth Bell, Rose Gillard, Christine Mann and Audrey Wood with Alan

Afterwards Ken commented “the training was absolutely fantastic! It gave me a good insight into advocacy”

Audrey said “ I thought advocacy was about speaking for people and after doing the training I discovered it’s about supporting them to do it themselves. I enjoyed working as a group on a case (case study scenario) as it was helpful to consider all options in a person-centred way”

Rose fed back “the training gave me a useful overview of the different ways advocacy is done and also it clarified the boundaries of what advocacy covers and what it doesn’t”

On a personal note, I very much enjoy facilitating training of this nature.

Alan Davison

Gateshead Cancer Advocacy

Age UK Gateshead