Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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“this empowered her to then make the next step on her own…”

In today’s post John, one of our dedicated peer advocates tell us his story:

I came to volunteering following my retirement. I wanted to use some of the skills I had acquired during my working life in hospitals and my own personal experience of cancer to support others.

As a volunteer advocate for Age Connects Cancer and Older People Advocacy project, I provide non-judgemental support ensuring that the older people’s views and wishes are represented. As a volunteer advocate I ensure there is a better understanding of the clients’ needs, and follow instruction solely from my client; confidentiality and trust is key to this role.


One call was to support a lady with her decision about moving. I went to visit her at home and found she lived in a top floor flat with no lift. She had difficulty walking so was finding herself increasingly staying at home and going out less as she couldn’t face the thought of struggling with all the stairs.

She asked if we could gain some information from her Housing Association, so with her consent they were contacted and the information was obtained on her behalf.  This information was discussed when I met with her face to face and we chatted at length about her possible options. She liked living in a flat as it was small and manageable. She also liked living on a higher level as she felt safe. However, she understood that with no lift and an impending operation which would incapacitate her even further, life in her top floor flat was going to become even more isolated and difficult. We talked further about the possibility of improvements she may find in her daily life if she moved to a property that had access to a lift and following this she felt more confident to phone the housing association to discuss her options and take it further. Having someone to talk to was vital for this lady, she had limited family and initially she didn’t know how to start the process of enquiry about moving, or even whether it was a viable option. Having spent time with her talking this through, I feel this empowered her to then make the next step on her own.

Another call was to visit a lady in Llandough Hospital. She had battled hard against her cancer and was now receiving end of life care in hospital. There was an absence of relatives so she was pleased to see a visitor. I had previously assisted her with some paperwork when she was at home, so it was nice to see her again, albeit in sad circumstances. I sat with her, held her hand and waited to see if she wanted to talk. When someone’s very unwell they may not want to listen to a chatterbox! Just being there and holding hands can help a person feel better.


She said she had declined physiotherapy because she was frightened in case she should fall. I spoke with the ward nurse and voiced the clients concerns – we arranged that the physiotherapy would start again.   I enquired about my clients care as there had been some queries about a move to another hospital, at that point in time she was too poorly for a move to take place and going home was not an option as there was no one to take care of her.  The process of what was currently happening was explained to my client and she understood why these decisions had been made. I made arrangements to visit again the following week, but very sadly my client passed away.

Through my volunteering work I support older people who have been touched by cancer with a range of issues, and hope to continue to do so. I can’t help with everything but I do my best. I make the extra effort to give my time and listen – I always listen.

John, peer advocate, Age Connects Cardiff & the Vale

Living in Cardiff and the Vale? If you or someone you know over the age of 50 is affected by cancer and could benefit from our service, please get in touch to discuss how a volunteer advocate could help you.

Call 029 2068 3681 or email copa@ageconnectscardiff.org.uk




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Encouraging health professionals to refer to us

The film we are highlighting today from our Older People’s Cancer Voices project has a call to action for health and care professionals – your local Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project needs you to refer older people affected by cancer.

We wanted to use this film to highlight both the strong outcomes of independent advocacy support for older people affected by cancer, but also the benefits to health and care professionals, both in terms of cost effectiveness and saving time, but also in strengthening service provision and therefore improving experiences for older people affected by cancer.

Our programme steering groups, cancer champions and the health professionals that we have strong working relationships with tell us that trust is a key issue for professionals making referrals outside the boundaries of their own services. Having trust in that referral, knowing the organisation you are referring to is a high quality service and will deliver strong patient centred outcomes, these are understandable barriers to referring into an independent advocacy service if you haven’t experienced these services before. We hope this film brings to life for health professionals what they, and their patient or the carer they are supporting can expect from a professionally led volunteer peer advocacy service, supported by experiences of the health and care professionals who already do make referrals:

We hope this film leaves you wanting to start a conversation with your local Cancer, Older People and Advocacy partner project, see the About Us page for details, we’re back tomorrow with a film aimed at commissioners.

Ang Broadbridge, OPAAL

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Can we think ahead while still adapting to a diagnosis?

With a limited number of volunteer advocates available the length of time that they can support any one individual inevitably has to be limited.  At the same time we wish to support people for as long as they need support but will also aim to refer them on to other local services such as befriending if and when appropriate.

One particular challenge for advocates in a partnership lasting a relatively short time is how to  assist with advance care planning.  Advocates are skilled at building the deep level of trust needed but they must follow their partner’s lead.  Jo Lee, Senior Macmillan Advocate who has joined the team here at Help and Care described advance care planning as a Pandora’s Box that some people may fear to open.   We would hope that once advance care planning is embarked upon with the support of an advocate then the fear would be much less.  We are planning in depth training for our volunteer advocates on these issues in the coming year.


Unlike cancer, dementia is always progressive but, like cancer, people can live well with the condition for many years. The recent evaluation of a post-diagnostic support project for people with dementia in Scotland by the University of Stirling and Bournemouth University Dementia Institute commented on the difficulty in supporting people with advance care planning.  Some people ‘just did not want to think ahead’ which underlines ‘the highly sensitive nature of the topic…and the lengthy timescales require to support people to think ahead, if they do actually wish to.’  People get used to the idea of having a particular illness or condition at different rates and that affects their ability to move forward on their journey.  The same report notes ‘reluctance in thinking too far ahead while still adapting to the diagnosis’ and emphasises ‘the importance of recognising that decisions on difficult topics, particularly advance care planning, will take time and of allowing people to arrive at their own position in their own time.’

Advocacy support helps people in different ways at different times on their cancer journey.  Some people contact us for support around the time of diagnosis or for help in coming to terms with a change in their situation. They may then say that they wish to end their partnership as they aren’t yet ready to think about advance care planning.  They know that they can contact us again in their own time.