Thursday 24th November 2016

It is always difficult to have conversations around cancer diagnosis, especially with young people. For oncologist care providers for this age group, it's so important to approach conversations in a palatable and sensitive way, and without creating barriers for more discussion and questions. 

Opening the Door to Difficult Conversations

PhD, RN, FAAN

Talking about sensitive topics and having difficult conversations is never easy, and when the recipient of the news is a young person and their family, the challenge is even greater. 

Young adults and teens see themselves as invulnerable, invincible and immortal and shattering this myth presents unique challenges to oncology team members. There are many difficult conversations that oncology care providers have to have with our patients; discussing a cancer diagnosis is usually the first conversation of many that are difficult for both the care provider and the patient. But there are many more – talking about preserving fertility, discussing dating or relationships after cancer, and sexuality and body image to name just a few.

We may be uncertain about having these conversations with a parent present – how do we get the parent to leave the room or do we even need to? How do we deal with an embarrassed teenager who is not sexually active (or doesn't admit to it) about the need for contraception during treatment? How do we avoid creating barriers to frank discussion when we don’t know the appropriate way of talking to a street involved kid who is using drugs that interfere with her treatment?

In this presentation, key points and helpful models will be presented to assist oncology care providers to have these difficult conversations while recognising the personal and institutional barriers to effective communication. While there is no 'perfect' way to talk about sensitive topics, after this presentation audience members will have some tools to use in future interactions with their patients.

The doctor waited until my mum and dad were there with me before giving me the results. When the doctor told me I had a brain tumour I felt relief because there was finally a diagnosis, but not relief that it was cancer.  I would have preferred for the doctor to tell me right away – I was an adult and she could have told me privately. My parents must have gone through hell as the diagnosis was unexpected. The doctor told me that I had to have an operation right away to save my life. They had a surgeon ready and waiting for me in the Edinburgh Western Hospital – we took an ambulance straight there.

- Steven, 21

The day before I received my A- Level exam results, I took a phone call in a coffee shop which changed my life. I was told I had Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. I remember feeling like I couldn't hear what was being said to me on the phone after he said the C word, it was like white noise.

- Ben, 20

Anne will be speaking more on breaking difficult news to teens and young adults and our International Conference and Global AYA Cancer Congress taking place December 5-7 at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, UK.

Register now to secure your place at the International Conference and Global AYA Cancer Congress