Facing a cancer diagnosis can be a lonely and confusing time, particularly for older people.
Often a lot of information has 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.”
Marion Young, from Morpeth, is one of Age UK Northumberland’s cancer advocacy volunteers, who recently had her outstanding contribution to the project recognised.
At the annual Ageing Well conference in Ashington in April, Marion received one of the initiative’s 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.
She waited more than 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.
If you would like to chat about helping the project or someone you know has a cancer diagnosis and would like information about the advocacy services, call 01670 784840 or email firstname.lastname@example.org