Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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The Silver Line: 0800 4 70 80 90 The free, 24 hour, confidential helpline for older people.

I would like to congratulate Esther Rantzen’s on her latest initiative to support lonely older people. Working with older people affected by cancer has opened our eyes to the fact that so many are lonely and frightened, these older people are not necessarily isolated, and can appear to have the support of many caring people. However, some older people with cancer have told us that even when they may be surrounded by family and friends nonetheless they can feel unbearably lonely struggling to cope with the impact cancer has on their lives. Unwilling to burden others, in particular family or friends with their worries and fear they try to struggle on alone. This is when our volunteer advocates can help, providing friendly, caring and sympathetic support. They listen to older people’s fears and concerns, and help to address these in practical ways aiming to remove all obstacles enabling older people to address these fears knowing they have support for as long as they need it.

Loneliness can cause serious damage, physically and mentally, as dangerous as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, more dangerous than obesity. A survey by the Campaign to End Loneliness found that 42% of older people reported that if they need help, they do not know where to turn.

The stigma attached to admitting loneliness, the reluctance in older people to ask for help because “there are so many other people far worse off than I am” and “I don’t want to be a burden” has meant that we have ignored and neglected the deep unhappiness created by loneliness, which is afflicting so many elderly people.

Why does The Silver Line exist?
The statistics about older people and loneliness are frightening. More than half of all 75 year olds in the UK live alone and one in ten suffers “intense” loneliness but is reluctant to ask for help. In a poll conducted to mark the national launch of The Silver Line on 25 November 2013, 9 out of 10 older people told researchers that “a chat on the phone” is the most helpful solution when they feel lonely but 1 in 4 older people say they never or seldom have someone to chat to on the phone.

About the Silver Line Helpline
The Silver Line is the confidential, free helpline for older people across the UK* open every day and night of the year. Specially trained helpline staff:
• Offer information, friendship and advice
• Link callers to local groups and services
• Offer regular befriending calls
• Protect and support those who are suffering abuse and neglect
*Silver Line Scotland will be delivered by Age Scotland in partnership with The Silver Line during week days, 8am – 8pm. At all other times calls will be answered at the nation helpline HQ.

Who is it for?
The Silver Line is a helpline for older people – the Silver Generation. We have no strict age limits but most people we speak to are over 65. So, if you think it’s for you, it’s for you.

Are All Calls Free?
The Silver Line Helpline is free to callers.
Relying on charitable donations from organisations and individuals who care about the welfare and safety of older people to fund this vital new service.

Are all calls confidential?
The Silver Line is a confidential helpline.
Callers are free to express their feelings and describe their lives honestly, and can trust us to respect their privacy.
In cases of abuse or neglect, with the callers’ permission, we will involve specialist safeguarding organisations.

Silver Line Friends and Silver Circles
If callers would like to be put in touch with Silver Line Friends, they can receive a regular weekly friendship call or email. Or they may like to join a Silver Circle and take part in a regular group call on subjects that interest them.
Silver Line Friends are volunteers who have contacted The Silver Line because they enjoy talking to older people. They are vetted and trained, and work in pairs for safeguarding and support.

Silver Line Forums
For those who want to connect online with others who have similar experiences, there are forums on a wide range of subjects that you can contribute to.

If you want to learn more about The Silver Line please click here. http://www.thesilverline.org.uk/


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Monica’s view

Having been involved with the advocacy for older people affected by cancer project as a member of the National Champion Board it has demonstrated how important the peer advocates have been in supporting older people living with cancer.

From personal experience I know how challenging it can be to navigate the complexities of the NHS and I am a nurse by background!  I often therefore wonder how challenging it must be for anyone who does not have good advice and support to help them come to terms with their diagnosis of cancer and the treatment that is required

It is evident from the many case studies that have been presented from the pilot sites that older people who have received support have benefited in numerous ways. For example, being better informed to enable them to understand treatment options available and providing access to welfare benefits, all of which help reduce unnecessary stress and anxieties not only for the older person affected by cancer but also their family.



There have of course been many other benefits realised from the pilot project. Volunteers who have been affected by cancer have been able to use their experiences to help others. Valuing older people’s knowledge and expertise can have a huge impact on their well-being, and of course these volunteers come from all walks of life and have other life and work skills that can add value to those who are being supported and to the organisations who enlist their voluntary time.

The project has also created a wonderful opportunity to bring voluntary and public sector organisations closer together for the benefit of older people living with cancer. This gives greater understanding of how the various organisations and professionals work and enables the sharing of experiences and expertise.

It has been a privilege to be involved with the pilot project. The enthusiasm and commitment of individuals working at the pilot sites alongside OPAAL and its partners has ensured the success that has been achieved. I wish the funding team well with the current funding bid.

Monica Dennis

National Cancer Champion

November 2013

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Report: “When bees meet trees”

I read a fascinating blog recently by Owen Jarvis published by the Clore Social Leadership Programme. In ‘When Bees Meet Trees’, Jarvis argues that major funders have a critical role to play in building collective approaches to social problems.

The Clore Social Leadership Programme

Funders have the ability to design their programmes so that organisations work together as a community with a common goal. Some people call this “collective impact networks”.
As Ruth Marvel says, large organisations, ‘trees’, feel they have to do everything themselves – including social innovation. This doesn’t play to their strengths.
They can achieve social mission and find new ideas more effectively if they supported the work of others, “bees”. These are smaller groups like OPAAL, entrepreneurs and charities – nimble, creative and fast-moving, often lacking size and impact.
This support can include investment. However, the strengths of “trees”, working nationwide, strong brands, networks and influence, can be used to encourage adoption of new ideas by government, the public and other organisations.

Our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy project is one example, and has shown that large charities like Macmillan Cancer Support can play different roles in supporting individual organisations to overcome competition to work collectively.

We are very lucky having Macmillan’s support. In addition to funding us they play a very special role in making their many specialist staff available to us providing OPAAL with a readily accessible ‘extended family’ of experts to support our work to improve the lives of many older people struggling with the impact of a cancer diagnosis and the effects this has on everyday life.


We are currently reaching the end of a six months programme bringing together 24 partner organisations to help us plan our £1 million Flagship bid to the Big Lottery Silver Dreams programme. This funding is critical and (if successful) with additional investment by Macmillan Cancer Support will help us support over two thousand older people over the next three years. Together we’ve involved hundreds of older people up and down the country in this planning stage, we all hope the decision makers at Big Lottery are influenced by the “When bees meet trees’ report and willing to invest further in this type of social change.

Like Jarvis and Marvel I too believe social change happens when “bees meet trees”, this report needs to be widely disseminated to inform other potential ‘trees’.

Older people tell us our work is exciting, innovative and in many cases changes lives. Wish us luck with our bid, and if you are a social media ‘tweeter’ do please pass this one to your networks.

Visit the Clore Social Leadership Programme website to download a copy of the “When Bees Meet Trees” report