Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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A Better Life for older people

A good quality of life is something that everyone wants for older people. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) A Better Life programme set out seven important challenges which will help older people with high support needs achieve a better quality of life.

It arrived at these challenges having explored ‘the things that older people say they want and value’ (Katz et al 2011) and approaches and initiatives that could make a difference through a five year programme of work.


SCIE and JRF have produced an At a glance briefing that summarises each of the seven challenges set out by JRF (Blood 2013), they have produced it to identify key SCIE resources that will support people working in social care address each of the seven challenges in their practice and relationships with older people with high support needs and achieve the overall aim of supporting choice, control and quality in their lives. The SCIE resources can be accessed here, the seven challenges are listed below.

1. Old age is not about ‘them’: it is about all of us
2. Older people are individuals and they are, as a group, becoming more diverse
3. Relationships matter to us whatever our age; we have a fundamental human need to connect with others meaningfully
4. Older people with high support needs have many assets, strengths and resources that they can also bring to the development and provision of services
5. Whatever our age or support needs, we should all be treated as citizens: equal stakeholders with both rights and responsibilities
6. The individual and collective voices of older people with high support needs should be heard and given power
7. We need both to innovate and improve existing models


It is important to recognise that while there are seven challenges they are all connected and need to be addressed as a whole rather than through acting on them individually. Our COPA project recognises and aims to respond to each of the above challenges proactively as part of our national project. If we take each in turn I shall illustrate some of the ways the project is addressing these challenges:-

1. Old age is about All of us and indeed we involve older people in every level of our project, one example is as Cancer Champions helping to guide and further develop,and promote our cancer support service.
2. OPAAL believes older people are in fact the most diverse group of people in the community as such we aim to harness and respond to this diversity, this year for example by aiming to target older LGBT individuals that need the support of a Peer Advocate.
3. The advocacy relationship is like no other, here we have an older person affected by cancer helping their peers, advocates quickly develop a rapport which soon matures into a trusting reliable relationship, one which encourages confidences, and enables those who are vulnerable to focus their energy on their treatment and care needs leaving the advocates to manage other concerns and worries.
4. We actively seek out older people with high support needs, they are invaluable to us as they have empathy with others and a deep understanding of what it is to be vulnerable on occasion. As volunteers once trained they make wonderful advocates.
5. Older People involved in COPA understand their responsibilities and enjoy may rights to be heard and to contribute in many different ways to the ongoing success of our project.
6. Advocacy is all about ‘Voice, Choice and Control’ we amplify older people’s voices ensuring they are heard where needed to make sure older people get a fair deal when it comes to cancer care and treatment. For example one of our volunteers is due to address a major national NHS Federation conference in Liverpool on 4th June, she will speak of her experiences as a cancer survivor and peer advocate.
7. With older people’s help and support together we all strive to improve our services as this project is all about innovation, proving that older people can help their peers and provide the support so badly needed when people become affected by cancer.

We are not complacent, this is not about sitting back and saying we are doing it, it’s about ensuring that these challenges continue to be acknowledged, owned and addressed by all those seeking to work with and support older people.


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Find me help

December’s Later Life Newsletter from DWP has the following news item which many people affected by cancer may find helpful, particularly at a time of emotional distress, and many advocacy services may wish to use as a resource: 

“Find Me Help”: Dying Matters and Macmillan Cancer Care have teamed up to produce a new free online resource, Find Me Help –  a directory or service finder aimed at people in the last years of life, their family, carers and friends which lists over 3,200 charitable services across the UK, including palliative care, meals, transport, social groups, etc.

Kath Curley, Cancer Advocacy Co-ordinator, Beth Johnson Foundation