Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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It’s as tough, if not tougher, for the family as for the patient

Family is still the most important support that we have on the cancer journey according to Colin Pritchard, Research Professor at Bournemouth University’s School of Health and Social Care.   ‘If you have no family it is very hard for a patient to go home from chemotherapy treatment alone,’ Colin said, ‘If you do have family it can be as tough if not tougher for the family as for the patient.’

Colin was speaking from his personal experience of cancer in reply to my question on quality of life for those people living with and after cancer.  He felt that the type of ongoing support that we can offer through Dorset Macmillan Advocacy was invaluable especially for people who are isolated.  He also described the ‘rollercoaster experience’ over several years of a friend having to cope with cancer recurrence.

I attended the public talk by Colin as part of the Bournemouth University annual Festival of Learning.  He presented his research under the title ‘Just how good or bad is the NHS in reducing cancer deaths? A comparison with the USA and the other Western nations’. He co-wrote the research with Dr Tamas Hickish, a consultant medical oncologist at Poole and Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospitals in Dorset.

Kathleen Gillett and Professor Colin Pritchard

Kathleen Gillett and Professor Colin Pritchard

The research, which is shortly to be updated, shows that the  NHS in England and Wales has helped achieve the biggest drop in cancer deaths and displayed the most efficient use of resources among 10 leading countries worldwide, according to the study published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2011.  At Dorset Macmillan Advocacy, one of our challenges is to help people living with and beyond cancer to enjoy a good quality of life through the support of our peer volunteer advocates.


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My Road to Volunteering

From a very early age I knew I would be a nurse and I was lucky to enjoy many happy years doing a job that brought me great personal satisfaction whilst helping patients and their families through some difficult and also distressing times. My later years as a cancer services manager were less expected but equally rewarding as I was able to contribute to ensuring we provided safe services and improved patient care and experiences.




Unfortunately, I developed cancer myself a few years ago. Over a period of just over a year, I needed two major surgical procedures and a course of chemotherapy. This was a difficult time for myself and my family but I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends, as well as excellent support and care from many healthcare professionals. I understood the workings of hospitals and whilst it was very different being on the ‘other side’  it was an environment I felt relatively at home.

 Thankfully my treatment was successful and I returned to full time employment for a couple of years but despite feeling fit and well, I decided to take early retirement with the intention of doing voluntary work which would utilise my skills gained during a long career. I wanted to use my cancer experience to help other people going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. This combination led me to become involved with Gateshead Cancer Advocacy.

 Being diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer and surviving cancer can be confusing, frightening and sometimes overwhelming but I am enjoying being part of this project, and will soon be supporting people during their cancer journey .  


Anne Linnett,

Cancer Support Advocate, Gateshead Cancer Advocacy