Talking about cancer

Talking about cancer can be tough – but if you’re worried you might have cancer, the people who care about you will want to know what’s on your mind.

Why talking helps

Saying cancer out loud for the first time makes everything seem more real. It’s not easy for anyone, and you might be worried you’ll upset people or not be taken seriously.

But speaking to the people you’re most comfortable with – friends, family, teachers, your local pharmacist, whoever it is – can sometimes help you put things in perspective.

And talking to a doctor or nurse – in person or by calling a helpline – is the best way to get expert advice and ask any questions that are on your mind.

Talking to friends/family

If you’re feeling worried, opening up can really help. It’s the kind of conversation people often spend ages worrying about and then wish they’d had much earlier. And whatever you’re worried about won’t go away if you ignore it.

You might find it helps to plan exactly what you want to say and to have the conversation when you’re not the centre of attention – like when you’re in a car or outside somewhere. Or you could write letters to the people you want to talk to, rather than having a conversation. It’s up to you.

People may get upset – they care about you and it’s not an easy situation. But they wouldn’t want you to go through this alone (although it’s important to let them know when you do need time to yourself, too).

Talking to a health professional

You might have dozens of medical questions or you might not know where to start. If you’ve got a lot to ask, maybe write down what you want to know so you don’t forget anything. It’s easy to get flustered, so try to check the list at the end of your appointment to make sure you’ve asked everything you wanted to.

If you’re nervous, you could talk through your questions with a friend before your appointment. It’s fine to take someone with you to the appointment, too – like a friend or relative. And if you’re feeling confused, don’t worry – the doctor or nurse will help you talk through exactly what’s going on.

Doctors and nurses spend all day every day talking about people’s bodies, so there’s no need to be embarrassed. Just try to talk through how you’re feeling as honestly as possible.

The health professional should listen and let you know what needs to happen next. But if you don’t feel you’re being listened to, say so or ask to see another doctor or nurse. And if you don’t understand what they tell you, ask for it to be explained more clearly. There’s no such thing as a silly question, and you can never ask too many questions.

Hiral at a Teenage Cancer Trust unit