Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A tale of pink smarties and why age shouldnt matter

A large part of the last week was at a party conference. My role there is to engage the politicians with our campaigns, to debate key policies and issues and make contact with the whole range of the delegates to let them know about our work. These conferences are busy, full on experiences with tempting people to the stand (pink smarties helped I am ashamed to say!) debates, fringe meetings and coffee conversations throughout the day. My throat was sore from talking and as for my feet!
I knew I had to have early nights to help me survive-boring but true.

One particular woman I spoke to not long after I arrived made an impact. She was one of the many we spoke to who had had personal experience of breast cancer. I began to recognise the signs as each would smile and seem to engage a little more than normal, followed then by a shy admission usually of having had personal experience. I found each disclosure touchingly honest and brave.

This particular lady told of her treatment seven years ago and her recent discharge from follow up. She was well and active and knowledgeable about her history. We were able to explain the process at her request how she could still ask for mammograms although she was past the screening age for automatic recall. She was 75 and very engaged with the need to continue to look after herself and the importance of early detection. Impressive indeed and perhaps not so rare anymore; not only are we having our assumptions about a cancer diagnosis challenged by the improving outcomes for people but we also have to review our perspective of age.

I attended a lunch meeting yesterday looking at the issue of how we perceive older people in our society. There was a shared view that change of attitudes was needed. I meet so many impressive women (and men) in my role and many of them in an older age group who contribute so much, be it in their communities, health care settings, families and so on. But the fact remains that there is evidence that different decisions are at times made on referral for treatment, treatment itself and perhaps on follow up too on the basis of age.

We have to challenge seeing people as defined by their age. True person centred care is seeing each of us as individuals. I well remember the woman I met first time around who was waiting to hear if she had cancer or not. She was 40 years older than me at that time but what struck me is that we had all the same fears and anxieties; fear of the treatment, of disfigurement, of the unknown and most of all not being there for our families. Food indeed for thought. Another visit I made this week was to the National Gallery of Scotland to see the Elizabeth Blackadder exhibition. It wasn’t just her beautiful paintings that were compelling(my favourites being of flowers and cats!) but her own charisma and beauty as evident from the short films. She is over 80 now and all the more impressive because of it.

Reasons to be cheerful:
We had a great time with the birthday boy! There is nothing like singing to lift the spirits and especially with people you love. Also it was good to see so many “kent” faces at the conference from so many sectors and receive so many kind messages too. A Sunday paper carried a story of my blog that has triggered several emails and comments from people who know me. Some of them weren’t too cheeky! I would just like life to be back to normal now and its getting there-just not quick enough for me. I keep saying I was a former patient of the hospital in Edinburgh-I wish!

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