Facing a cancer diagnosis can be a lonely and confusing time, particularly for older people.
Often a lot of information needs to be absorbed about the journey ahead and in making decisions about treatment choices and accessing services.
Even with the support of loved ones, many people do not wish to share their worries or troubles with friends and families.
But an innovative project recognising these challenges, set up by Macmillan Cancer Support and Age UK Northumberland, provides one-to-one support, help and information for people over 50 and their families affected by cancer.
This programme is only available in certain parts of the country and Northumberland is fortunate to be one of these areas.
It is a free service and without doubt something that can assist during a difficult time.
The Cancer, Older People and Advocacy Project is delivered by both staff and a network of volunteer advocates – people who have had cancer or experience of caring for someone with cancer.
Typically help can be provided by accompanying people to meetings and appointments, identifying benefits and allowances they may be entitled to, finding information about housing options, locating local support groups and providing help when dealing with community care services.
Karen Renner, volunteer coordinator, said: “Working in Northumberland provides its own unique challenges and rewards. The county has vast rural areas with pockets of small communities that don’t have the ready access that more urban counties have to services and professionals.
“Older people are typically traditional, proud individuals who like to go about their daily lives with the minimum of fuss. That’s why the project is so important. One in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage of our lives and everyone should have support at that time.”
If you’d like to chat about helping the project or you or someone you know has a cancer diagnosis and would like information about the advocacy services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01670 784840.
• One of the volunteers, Gil Owens, has been volunteering since the initiation of the advocacy project.
Having had a past diagnosis of prostate cancer, Gil wanted to use his experience and knowledge to support others.
He said: “I am a 69-year-old retired lecturer and manager in further education. I like to keep fit with swimming and cycling and I am a keen member of a local triathlon club.
“Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a traumatic experience but the support of my wife and children helped me hugely, as did the assistance of Prostate Cancer UK.
“Not everyone has a person or organisation there when cancer affects them and not everyone has, wants to or feels able to talk to people close to them. This is when an independent listening advocacy service can fill the gap.
“The responsibilities of my role to date have varied from helping with housing needs to researching information on all sorts of topics such as power of attorney and housing and welfare benefits.
“However, generally being a good listener and supporting and assisting people in clarifying their priorities is a key part of the role.
“The volunteering I do is extremely rewarding work. I’m always learning but one of the strengths of the advocacy project is that I have two excellent organisations in Macmillan and Age UK to back me up when I need it.
“Our project can really make a difference and I would recommend it. Advocacy gives people a voice and a choice about what happens next.”
• Marion Young, pictured, from Morpeth, is one of Age UK Northumberland’s cancer advocacy volunteers, who recently had her outstanding contribution to the project recognised.
Ageing Well is a Northumberland County Council initiative promoting the health and wellbeing of older people within their local communities.
At its annual conference in Ashington in April, Marion received one of their acclaimed Extra Smiles Awards.
This was a special award entitled Don’t Panic, Capt Mainwaring! due to the fast-thinking action of the recipient.
Marion was referred an 88-year-old lady who was diagnosed with breast cancer. This lady lived alone and had no immediate family.
On one particular occasion, Marion was due to meet her client for a hospital appointment.
Marion waited over two hours and then called the lady but received no reply.
Concerned about her welfare, Marion informed the advocacy team and then went to the lady’s home where she received no response from knocking at the door.
Marion then called the police who gained access and found the lady collapsed in a semi-conscious state and called an ambulance.
“Volunteering to be an advocate is one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said. “Having had experience of cancer myself, I felt that there must be something I could do to help others facing a cancer diagnosis.”
Speaking about her award, she added: “The award was a total surprise.
“It was also particularly poignant for me as the lady I helped was a Land Army girl and her husband a pilot in the Second World War. I have heard many stories about their experiences.”
Marion continued to support the lady by visiting her in hospital.
Deb McGarrity, lead support cancer advocate, said: “What Marion did was above and beyond our expectations of a volunteer.
“Marion is such an asset to Age UK Northumberland, as are all our volunteer peer advocates.”