Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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When cancer is diagnosed

Tom is 72 years old and lives alone. His wife died several years ago of breast cancer. He has two children; a son who is in Australia and a daughter who lives and works in London.  Tom’s GP referred him to the Oncology department at the local hospital where he was given a variety of tests and given another appointment. He was advised to take someone with him for this visit but decided to go alone. When he met with the consultant, despite his suspicions, he was still shocked when the doctor told him he had prostate cancer.

Tom was quite unable to take in what was said to him and when he left he could hardly remember anything that the doctor had told him. He was given a lot of leaflets containing information about his cancer but didn’t feel as though he could look at them. He didn’t want to bother his children because he didn’t know what to tell them. He felt confused, apprehensive, and depressed about his future. He would have like to have had someone to talk to but didn’t feel close enough to anyone to share his feelings. One good friend, who knew of the diagnosis, gave him a leaflet about the services offered by Dorset Advocacy and offered to help him make the call for help.


 When Tom contacted Dorset Cancer Advocacy, he was put in touch with a volunteer advocate, David, who arranged to meet him in his home. Tom was relieved to find David a friendly and sympathetic listener. After being assured that his privacy would be respected he felt able to tell David about his fears and concerns, mainly how to find out more about his condition, treatment and outcomes. He was also anxious about informing his son and daughter. He was unsure whether he should tell them about his diagnosis and did not want to become a burden to them. He also had financial concerns about paying for additional help, if and when they it was needed.

With the help of David, he developed a list of specific questions he had for his doctor. He and David went through the leaflets to gain more understanding of his diagnosis. He welcomed David’s offer to accompany him to the next appointment so that any remaining questions would be addressed.

 Tom then told David about his son, living in Australia, and his daughter who had a very busy life in London. Although he felt it important that they know of his cancer he did not have enough information to give them. He thought that he should know more before informing them so that he could answer any questions they had. David supported this decision and they made a list of questions about sources of help and care that were available.

Finally, David was able to provide him with a list of agencies that could address his financial concerns. He also promised to return with additional information that would be helpful to him.

They arranged to meet again and David left a contact number so that Tom could contact him should he need more help. As Tom watched David drive away, he breathed a sigh of relief. Here was someone who could be a real friend and supporter, who would understand his fears and could provide support. He picked up the phone to thank his friend for helping him make the call to Dorset Cancer Advocacy.

Janet Lister, Volunteer Advocate, Dorset Cancer Advocacy

This is what we do; it’s what this project is all about. If our application to Big Lottery’s Silver Dreams Flagship programme is successful we’ll be able to support lots more people like Tom. Wish us luck!



My experience of being a Volunteer Advocate

What is it like – being an advocate for the Beth Johnson Cancer Advocacy Project? The first thing was finding the courage to apply, first of all I thought perhaps I was too old; secondly could I manage to drive around the Potteries when required to visit a client without worrying about it for too long? I phoned for an interview.

BETH LOGO small document

I feel very strongly about helping people with cancer as I have been a victim myself so it was very comforting to have my phone call answered by a very pleasant lady – the Project Co-ordinator. She informed me about the things I would need to do before I could be accepted.

I thought at first it would be quite a daunting project even though I was a retired nurse. The people we get involved with are vulnerable with life threatening illnesses to contend with, for example, being so ill they have to give up their jobs and have no money coming in, is yet another worry for them. This I soon found out after several courses and meeting lots of very interesting people who dedicate their lives to helping these sick, vulnerable people.

Sheila Kay

Sheila Kay

Several months on I have been accepted (I think?) and enjoy going round to visit these people. Some are very nice and it makes you feel quite sad because of their suffering but it gives you a nice feeling to be able to support them and signpost them to people and organisations that can help their situation. I, myself, did not realise just how many people out there can help and I have found lots of organisations willing to help older people affected by cancer. One such person, an elderly retired gentleman, had only his pension to live on and he had retired early through illness, was finding it hard to survive. My mentor, who I went to visit this gentleman with, was very good at explaining things to him, gave him lots of information on who to contact. It was so good to see the relief on this man’s face when we came away with a promise to follow up our visit with another one and keeping in touch by phone on a weekly basis.

This week we have another meeting and workshop. I will also have another person on my list to visit and a catch up with what has been going on with the other clients.

On the whole I am really glad I applied for this project. It is good to help people and also interesting learning about life with cancer and how other people who have no-one to support them can survive.

By Sheila Kay