How to talk about difficult subjects
Most people find it hard to talk about a deeply personal issue such as sex. This might put you off starting a conversation and you may hope that someone, such as a partner, parent, friend, doctor, nurse or social worker, brings the subject up with you first.
They may not always think of discussing sexuality or fertility, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not willing to help in any way they can.
Healthcare and fertility clinic staff who work with people with cancer are used to talking about sensitive matters. They’re experienced in talking with people about sex, feelings and how our bodies work. Most of these staff won’t be surprised or embarrassed if you talk to them. There should always be a private space available for this type of discussion, and you can ask to talk to someone of the same gender as you if you’d prefer to.
I wish I'd plucked up the courage to talk about how the treatment would affect my sex life. It would really have helped if I'd had some idea what to expect.
Healthcare and fertility clinic staff can refer you to other services if you like, or you may be able to approach services such as social work or counselling directly - this varies in different parts of the country. There are also specialist and confidential telephone advice lines that can help you or put you in touch with local services.
If you’d prefer to talk confidentially to a professional in person but think you’ll find it embarrassing, it might be useful to write down all your questions in advance. You can then read from the list or show it to the person you’re talking to.
Another way is to write a letter or a story for the person you are seeing. You can give this to them when you meet as a way of starting the discussion. Many people find it useful to take a family member or friend with them when they see a new professional. The family member or friend could also make notes of what’s discussed so that you can read them later.
It may help to ask for the professional’s telephone number or email address, in case there’s anything you want to ask afterwards.
Sometimes when we talk about the sexual or reproductive parts of our body to other people, different words or expressions can be used that may not be clear. This can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. If someone uses words that you don’t understand, it’s okay to ask them to explain - that’s better than going away feeling more confused than you were before.
What sort of questions can I ask?
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You may wonder which questions are okay to ask. But you can ask about whatever’s important to you. No one will think that your questions are silly or weird, and nothing is off-limits.
If you don’t want anyone else to know
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It can be hard to find people to speak to who understand what you're going through. I sometimes felt isolated and needed support and reassurance.
It doesn't have to be a lonely experience, though. There are professionals and organisations that understand and are able to offer support. You shouldn't be embarrassed to tell anyone how you feel.
Whenever you seek professional help - whether from a doctor, nurse, social worker, psychologist, counsellor or anyone else - it will usually stay confidential.
Your family and partner aren’t allowed to know what you’ve discussed or even that you’ve been to see someone, unless you give your permission for them to know. This is true even if you’re under 16. The only time when a professional can tell someone else what you’ve said is if they believe that your life is at risk, and this is very rare. For example, if they think that you might seriously harm yourself, or if they think that some other serious harm may happen if they didn’t do something. If the professional feels that they have to tell someone else, they should tell you that they’re going to break your confidence.
Sometimes, a professional may ask your permission to talk to other people who are seeing you - for example, a counsellor may ask your permission to tell your doctor that they’ve seen you. But that decision is entirely up to you.