Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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Expanded Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project gets under way tomorrow

Following our Silver Dreams Flagship award from BIG Lottery and additional funding support from Macmillan Cancer Support our newly expanded project gets under way officially from tomorrow.

In this video Kath Parson, Chief Executive of OPAAL, talks about the launch of our Flagship project. A number of new delivery and strategic partners will be joining partners from the original pilot project to expand our support for older people affected by cancer to a number of new locations. We’ll give more details on partners from tomorrow.


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Find out why Macmillan is supporting our project

Following our successful funding application to BIG Lottery’s Silver Dreams Flagship Fund we recently held a celebration event to look back at the many achievements of the pilot project and to launch the newly expanded Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project which will kick off in earnest on 1st May.

At the event hosted by Macmillan Cancer Support, Jagtar Dhanda, Head of Patient Experience at Macmillan, explained why our project is so important for older people affected by cancer. Find out what Jagtar had to say by watching the short video clip below.


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Success for one of the pilot projects!

Staffordshire Peer Advocacy Project: support for older people with cancer

A growing number of older people with cancer across Staffordshire will now receive additional support and information thanks to the success of the OPAAL-Macmillan advocacy pilot project, jointly funded by Macmillan and the Big Lottery Silver Dreams Programme.

The success of the pilot cancer advocacy service, delivered by the Beth Johnson Foundation covering Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, has lead to the announcement of further investment from Macmillan over the next 3 years to extend the pilot beyond the initial 18months and to increase the reach of the service to make it Staffordshire wide.

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The pilot project recruited 10 volunteer advocates who had a direct experience of the impact a cancer diagnosis can have themselves. These advocates  have supported 36 local people over the age of 50, who were facing their cancer diagnosis alone.

Advocates provide support around a wide variety of issues including treatment and care, social and financial difficulties, employment issues and providing a listening ear. One homeless client has been supported to apply for sheltered housing with a social housing association, obtain furniture from the local furniture mine, to have a DWP assessment and apply for Personal Independent Payments.  An elderly gentleman, with no relatives, requested the advocate to obtain information on Will making, organ donation, Lasting Power of Attorney and advanced decision making regarding his care. The advocate discussed these issues with the client and was present during the appointment with the Solicitor and ensured that the client had all his wishes recorded.

Kath Curley

Kath Curley

Kath Curley, Cancer Advocacy Project Co-ordinator at The Beth Johnson Foundation, said: “It is fantastic that the pilot has been so successful that Macmillan have decided to extend the project. Many older people feel vulnerable following a cancer diagnosis and are not confident or well informed enough to ask the right questions and ensure that they get the most appropriate treatment. Our advocates support them to speak out and to get the information they need to make informed decisions on their care.”

Marika Hills, Macmillan Development Manager, said: “The success of the pilot is a real testament to how important this project is. Evidence is mounting that older people are less likely to receive the treatment they need when cancer is diagnosed, despite the fact that cancer rates increase with age. No one should have face cancer alone, and with support like this in place we can help ensure no one has to.”

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If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am-8pm on 0808 808 00 00 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk. For more information about the Staffordshire Peer Advocacy and Support Project please contact Kath Curley on 01782 844036 or visit www.bjf.org.uk


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Kath talks about our BIG Lottery Flagship application

Recently Kath talked about her experience of completing and submitting our Flagship application to BIG Lottery’s Silver Dreams Programme.

Listen below to her comments. (The recording lasts for two and a half minutes)


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Hooray! Our Silver Dreams Flagship application is in!

Many thanks to all who contributed to our £1,000,000 Silver Dreams Flagship application. It was delivered to BIG Lottery this morning.

supported by Big Lottery and the Daily Mail

It has been a major task and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of so many people. Hundreds of older people, many of them affected by cancer, have informed the application as have our project’s wonderful peer advocates and local and national cancer champions. Project partners have provided us with loads of vital information and data. Two people deserve a special mention, we’d like to say an especially big thank you to Mike Pochin of Dorset Advocacy for his sterling work helping Kath edit the flagship application and to Anne Smith, OPAAL’s Finance Officer, whose vigilance and attention to detail made working with the budget much easier than it might otherwise have been.

If successful, our up-scaled project will involve new service delivery partners as well as new research and development and strategic partners. We’d like to thank these potential partners for their patience in what has been a lengthy consultation period and will now involve a further wait for the application result.

Our partners at Macmillan Cancer Support have supported us tirelessly from the outset and for that we are extremely grateful. It has been and will continue to be a pleasure to work alongside them to improve the experience of older people affected by cancer. We’ve learned so much from each other and look forward to reaching over 2,000 older people affected by cancer over the next three years.

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We thought you might be interested in what we actually plan to do if we’re successful so here are our intentions:

We’ll upscale delivery of peer advocacy to Older People Affected by Cancer successfully piloted with Silver Dreams funding, reaching Older People Affected by Cancer in 7 new locations to embed and augment the good practice gains so far delivered, and establish independent advocacy as an accepted part of the cancer pathway.

Our 6 main aims are to:
1.increase the resilience of Older People Affected by Cancer including those from the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender community in managing their cancer pathway through the delivery of peer advocacy. Current 240 beneficiaries will increase to 2040 by 2017.
2.involve and learn from the older Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender community, creating new tools and training materials raising awareness of their cancer support needs with project partners and health professionals.
3.increase the number of delivery partners to 10, supporting this by developing partners’ capacity through implementing national standards, delivering new leadership and mentoring and training programmes.
4.create a new network of Resource & Development Partners to help test project tools and outputs.
5.create a shared and lasting strategic understanding with health agencies both locally and nationally, enabling efficient and effective referral and communication pathways, thus sustaining the optimum accessibility and effectiveness of peer advocacy.
6.expand our networks of Local and National Cancer Champions Boards key to achieving aim 5 above.

Our new programme has a 3-year funding strategy to complement resources committed by the Flagship Fund (if successful) with additional funding sought from Macmillan Cancer Support, who are committed to sustaining OPAAL’s capacity as national project lead. An additional bid has also been submitted to NESTA which will fund (if successful) 3 new delivery partners and increase the capacity of partners to deliver through adding value to the leadership and Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender elements of our programme and to expand development of impact measurement tools.

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A £45,000 grant from Macmillan Cancer Support this year funded our new 9 month Foundation programme, through which we have assessed and prepared thirteen new partners to join Cancer, Older People and Advocacy. These partners are ready to work in accordance with our training, policies and standards. Each will be mentored by one of the five existing pilot partners.

We’ll develop a single national impact reporting procedure, publishing (with consent) over 300 stories of Older People Affected by Cancer and 10 films, and create a template for a multi-agency advocacy operational protocol to guide integrated working between health and social care that will benefit commissioners of advocacy nationally.

We should find out in late February or early March if we’ve been successful so do keep in touch with us via the blog to get any news hot off the press as soon as it becomes available.


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Good luck from OPAAL’s Patron

OPAAL’s Patron, Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland, has sent her best wishes on a successful outcome to our Silver Dreams Flagship application to BIG Lottery. The Duchess is extremely supportive of our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy work and is keen to see it extended more widely across the country. Her Grace said “I wish OPAAL every success in this application. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer so the more support there is for older people as they deal with cancer the better. Advocacy can make such a positive difference. Good luck!”

OPAAL's  Patron

OPAAL’s Patron


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Meeting our Volunteer Advocates

Between July and August this year I travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting our volunteer advocates. I was visiting our cancer support projects with the aim of evaluating the volunteer experience. We do have eternal evaluators who have been busy all summer long interviewing a wide range of project stakeholders, however I myself like to conduct some internal evaluation particularly of our volunteers, as this gives me a rare opportunity to thank them in person for the invaluable work they do supporting older people affected by cancer.

The first thing I have to say was that it was a truly humbling experience for me. I spoke with Tom, Evelyn and Anne from Gateshead; Richard, Pauline and Janet from Dorchester; Maddie, Marion and Bob from Bournemouth; Helen from Sefton and finally Pauline and Yvonne from Stoke on Trent. Without exception I was immediately struck by the genuine warmth of these people, their desire to help and offer support to others in similar situations to those in which they had found themselves earlier in their lives shone through. When I asked how they came to volunteer all had a uniquely personal and moving tale to tell. These stories mostly focussed around their experience of cancer, how this had changed their lives and how, upon coming through it they determined to make the lives of others just that bit easier by sharing what they had learned. Volunteers told me “As a cancer patient I see a real need for this project and want to help out with whatever I can do to support this work” and “I believe this project has the potential to benefit a lot of people.” “I have never felt so appreciated in voluntary work as I do here” quote one lady who had volunteered with other projects before.

Kath with volunteer advocates Bob Smith, Marion Summers and Maddy Smith

Kath with volunteer advocates Bob Smith, Marion Summers and Maddy Smith

I asked about how well the volunteers felt equipped to cope with the challenges of supporting older people affected by cancer, without exception volunteers spoke movingly of the tremendous support they receive from their advocacy supervisors stating how they really valued this personal support as it gave them opportunities to explore in depth the ways in which they could help others, and learn from others experience.

One volunteer noted that mainly as a result of the excellent training and support she has received: “I have much more awareness of cancer and its impact on older people and the wide range of services available to support OPABC”.

When describing their voluntary work one person said “It’s always interesting, sometimes challenging, always rewarding, work with lovely people, never pressured, always supported.” whilst another quoted  “I found the role of a volunteer advocate very rewarding though it is not without its challenges. “I enjoy the one to one contact and feeling useful as I’m able to offer emotional support and able to help others to look beyond their present problems”

When we spoke of our volunteers intention to continue to volunteer with the project many people gave moving accounts of why they wish to continue to offer their services, some people are even considering a change of career they have been so motivated by their volunteering experience.

“I would really like to make the move into independent advocacy work as a second career, I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from the training I’ve received and I’m very happy to undertake all other training offered in this area. I am also mindful of the fact that the more experience I get supporting others the more I will learn. I also volunteer for a local Douglas Macmillan Hospice and pick up extra skills and knowledge there.”

“I feel this project is of vital importance to the people of North Staffordshire who meet all the criteria for the services of an advocate. 

“I wish to use my experience as a nurse and cancer patient to help support other people in similar circumstances”. 

“ I retired with a purpose of doing positive things and the hope that it keeps my brain active”.

“I believe this project has the potential to benefit a lot of people.”

“As a cancer patient I see a real need for this project and want to help out with whatever I can do to support this work”

“I want to continue this role, work more with both patients and carer’s as I feel there is not enough support for carer’s sometimes I feel they have different support needs than patients” 

I should like to publically record my thanks and those of our partner organisations to our wonderful volunteers without whom we would not be able to offer the much valued advocacy support services we offer to older people affected by cancer, most of whom could not find this support from elsewhere.

My report Volunteering Voices feeds into our project evaluation which will be available to read here during November.