"Cancer doesn't discriminate." I don't know who originally said that quote. It must have been someone who realized how large and diverse a world we live in, and how broad the term cancer is. Just as there are many different types of cancer, there are many different types of people, and we all have specific and unique needs.
The climate for people who identify as part of the LGBT community is improving in some areas. Equal protection policies are more common than they used to be, gay people are more visible in the media and community, and this spring the Supreme Court has begun tackling Prop 8 and DOMA's constitutionality. On a large scale, changes are occurring every day, but on a personal level some things remain the same.
Being diagnosed with cancer is not a rare occurrence, unfortunately. There are approximately a million and a half new cases documented each year. This means a million and a half people are part of a gigantic club no one wanted to join. You'd think that would encourage some camaraderie, and it does. Organizations like Stand Up To Cancer assemble cancer groups, like a family reunion, for their annual telethons to raise money for research.
However, within that gigantic cancer club there are smaller clubs everyone is categorized into. Those smaller clubs are where patients spend most of their time and garner support. For example, sarcoma and blood cancer patients rarely speak the same oncological language. They are different cancer journeys. Therefore, the blood cancer patients have The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the sarcoma folks have Sarcoma Alliance. The club grows even smaller when types of blood cancer or sarcoma are divided out. Then age breaks down the groups even further.
If a patient is over the age of 18, that patient is usually lumped into the same group as the 75 year olds. Organizations like Stupid Cancer and Planet Cancer help with this by giving young adults their own community, since their needs and concerns are somewhat different from those around retirement age. However, when we get down to just the young adult cancer population, that huge million and a half number is cut down to about 72,000 newly diagnosed people each year, scattered throughout the United States.
If one subscribes to the belief that somewhere between 4 percent and 10 percent of the entire population is gay, that 72,000 number dwindles down to become an incredibly small group. This makes finding a community of understanding increasingly difficult for a young adult cancer patient who is gay.
You might be wondering "What does it matter? Sexuality doesn't change the cancer experience," but it does slightly. While other young adults with cancer talk about their wedding plans being put on hold, or how grateful they are to be on their spouse's health insurance plan, many LGBT people are not allowed to legally marry their partner, let alone receive benefits. Dating during and after cancer is a tough discussion for anyone, a person who is gay may not feel comfortable talking about that subject in mixed company. Fertility is a huge concern for many young adult cancer patients including LGBT cancer patients, but the discussion is not exactly the same.
For as far as the LGBT community has come, there are still those who view us as "other." This can be a real problem in a support group setting. If you are a patient stuck feeling like you need to explain how you are the same in the fight, or feeling like you have to hide your orientation, you are not able to hone in on the cancer support you are looking for.
There doesn't appear to be much research showing how many of our young adults in the LGBT community are diagnosed with cancer every year. I was only able to find one small study. That study, sampled just over 70,000 women ages 18-65 with cancer and there were approximately 900 lesbians, and 1,100 bisexual women identified. The study also looked at over 49,000 men with cancer and there were approximately 1,500 gay and 600 bisexual identified men included.
When I started writing this blog I did some digging and found a growing organization called The National LGBT Cancer Project-Out With Cancer. Out With Cancer has an online community for LGBT cancer patients. The National LGBT Cancer Project is also building their presence throughout the United States with local support groups. Their website is informative and If you are an LGBTQI cancer patient with questions or needing support, feel free to check them out.
At the core, we are all the same. We are more than our labels and we are searching for others who understand our journey. Cancer unites us in difficulty and the best we can do is support one another with compassion and care.