Once again the Contact Young Company congregated to explore the findings of the BRIGHTLIGHT study; a series of research projects designed to answer a single question: Do specialist services for teenagers and young adults add value?
We were joined by Anna Martins, a PhD Research Associate for BRIGHTLIGHT, whose Social Psychology thesis looks at how young people develop views about themselves, and how the relationship with their parents influences this process. We also had the welcome company of Sue Morgan, a Nurse Consultant, who has both an MBE and a Masters degree. Sue continues to be one of the main influences in the development of teenage and young adult cancer care and always relishes the opportunity to work directly with young people.
So, there we all were, twenty something young people and academics, ready to start talking about cancer care, watching some performances the company had made, when one of the first things I hear is;
I won't repeat it on here but...
Clearly sex was on the agenda.
That’s something that’s easily forgotten about all young adults, cancer or not, sex is on the agenda. Whilst there’s no use ignoring it, sometimes it’s difficult to broach this subject with a young person. Whether that be because the young person themselves are not comfortable talking about it, or the ‘adult’ in the situation finds it awkward. And because no one really wants to deal with it we all end up in a politeness cycle which means the sex talk gets muffled.
When talking about sex with young cancer patients each professional has their own approach, and looking at the BRIGHTLIGHT findings it’s clear some of these approaches are better than others, and perhaps a unified training scheme is in order. Using these findings CYC were asked to create short diary entries from the perspective of a young person who’d just had the ‘cancer and sex conversation’ with a medical professional. Our guests pointed out that a lot of the time this conversation takes place whilst parental figures are in the room, which adds another dimension of awkwardness, something highlighted in all the performances we saw;
“I finally asked the doctor “so how is the treatment going to affect my ability to have sex?” When a stifled cough behind me reminded me of the rooms’ forgotten occupant. She shuffled her feet as all the blood in my body rushed to my head but unfortunately did not kill me. “I’m just going to get some water” mum mumbled as she made to leave the room.”
Don’t get me wrong, my own mother and I have a very close relationship, but that doesn’t mean either of us wants to discuss the literal ins and outs of my sex life!
“After the doctor left my mum came back into the room and I talked non-stop about the quality of french cinema, despite only ever having seen half of Amélie once and literally not giving a flying… Not sure I’ll ever be able to look my mum in the eye again”.
Young people need to be well informed about what their options are and be able to make their own choice with that information. So, how do we go about making sure these important conversations are had, without isolating parental figures and without watering down the information? One option from the BRIGHTLIGHT study is about making a young person friendly environment, where young cancer patients are surrounded by their peers and can talk about what to expect from treatment, life after treatment, the annoying things associated with treatment
So, whether making a study or making a show about young people and cancer, we can't just focus on the cancer. You’ve got to also focus on the young person, which means discussing things relevant to them and yep, that includes the sex.
Mark (Assistant Director)