"Dealing with breast cancer was my worst nightmare. So how did I transform my difficult experience into something of value? I did this through volunteering with Breast Cancer Now!"

Wednesday 24 January 2018      Volunteers blog
Clover Lewis, Service Pledge Patient Advocate for Breast Cancer Now

Clover Lewis, Service Pledge Patient Advocate for Breast Cancer Now

I worked with Breast Cancer Now as a Service Pledge Patient Advocate within the NHS. You’re probably thinking to yourself, 'What on earth is that?' 

Well, simply put, Service Pledge Patient Advocates are women who have gone through breast cancer treatment, who want to use their experiences to support other breast cancer patients. Working with Breast Cancer Now, Patient Advocates encourage breast cancer patients. They give the breast cancer patients a chance to feedback on their experiences to their breast care teams. This then leads to improving patient experiences within Breast Care services in NHS hospitals.  How amazing is that?!

The Service Pledge working with the NHS is a proven model that involves both patients and breast care team members working together to improve breast care services. 

Making a real difference

Women with breast cancer are more likely to speak with other women who have had similar experiences more candidly, honestly, and openly.

That's where your personal experience of breast cancer treatment can become helpful. Patients tend to share the changes they want to see to an Advocate - and this is how advocacy can make a huge difference!  

The information shared (confidentially) with Patient Advocates is then passed on to breast cancer teams and evaluated for possible changes to services. Advocating for patients means there is a stronger chance for improvement of the patient experience when using breast cancer services.

A few examples of comments gathered by patient advocates from women like you are:  

  • How the lack of communication between the different departments can contribute to delays when attending appointments 
  • What the impact is on people experiencing those delays 

While I was a Patient Advocate, issues raised by the patients I worked with were:

  • The lack of availability of reconstruction images to help to decide the most appropriate breast cancer treatments for them
  • Suggestions on how to improve ways of contacting the medical team including a breast care nurse
  • New approaches for patients to feedback positive experiences within the hospital system for breast cancer 

Many of the issues raised during discussions with breast cancer patients result in changes that are a. very doable and b. can save the NHS money.

Often female patients have a lot to say about their experiences of breast cancer services and treatment within the hospital services! Working as a Service Pledge Patient Advocate means you help by listening to them, and sharing their experiences with hospital breast care teams. Acting as a 'go-between' with patients and team members, both gain greater insight into areas of patient services that need to develop to benefit future patients. 

An empowering experience

Volunteering with Breast Cancer Now is a way that you can: 

  • Empower yourself as a person
  • Act on behalf of other patients
  • Engage with other breast cancer survivors, and make the services better for yourself and others
  • Join a great charity working on improving the experience of people with breast cancer

After working as a Service Pledge Patient Advocate for several years, I know this is a valuable experience and a way to make sense of my diagnosis and treatment. 

As Breast Cancer Now's Service Pledge has been successful in over 90 hospitals countrywide, the initiative may get rolled out to other cancer services too, which may include one near you!

Breast Cancer Now has plenty of opportunities where you can volunteer and help to make a difference. Another example is The Insight Panel which is made up of a group of former patients, carers and family members. Together they support Breast Cancer Now’s work by taking part in opportunities such as reviewing public health information, attending NICE committee meetings and conferences as a Patient Advocate and using their experience as a patient to help with Breast Cancer Now’s policy work. It’s another way to get involved and to help improve patient care. 

How you can get involved

You may be thinking "I'd like to do that! Where do I sign up?" To get involved with Breast Cancer Now’s advocacy work as a member of the Insight Panel, email insight.group@breastcancernow.org where a member of the health advocacy team will be in touch. 

With warmth, Clover Lewis