We know that being diagnosed with cancer in your 20s or 30s is hard enough, let alone when you're from the LBGTQ+ Community. At Trekstock we want to ensure your voices and experiences are visible in our community.

We've asked those from the LGBTQ+ Community to share their experiences of being diagnosed and undergoing treatment. First up, it's Stewart

Being diagnosed with cancer was a shock. I was healthy, young and had just moved to a new country but after a bout of food poisoning took me from my local doctor to multiple hospitals in the space of a month, the writing was on the wall.

It all happened during December 2016 and by the first week of the new year, I knew I had chronic myeloid leukaemia. I felt torn as I was six months into Berlin and surrounded by supportive new friends, but I also felt a pull to go home and have treatment in my own country. I ended up going back so that I could fluently communicate what I needed and find support that would help me process what was happening.

When I went looking for that support however, I was disappointed to see almost nothing out there for LGBT patients. I came out at 13, so I grew up queer and as a result, the world I’ve built around me reflects that. But all of the LGBT cancer forums online seemed empty and when I went into cancer centres I saw hundreds of faces smiling back from the leaflets along the wall, but none of them looked like me or my friends. I remember picking up a leaflet about sexuality once, but it was only about heterosexual sex. I gave up on looking for LGBT leaflets after that. 

Even the groups on offer felt gendered and gatekept. If I asked to join an art group, I was told it wasn’t for me and that I should try sports with the guys despite being visibly queer and clearly a tattooer. Though I can understand how their assumption came about through a lack of questions mixed with a lack of LGBT resources, it was still frustrating to tell them the support I needed and to be shooed into another. I constantly felt like the difficult square peg. I asked in multiple cancer centres over the years for LGBT support and was always met with a fumbling response, an apology, sometimes a ‘disbelief’ that they didn’t offer anything and ultimately a dead end.

Instead, all of my therapeutic conversations ended up being with counsellors who heard me ruminate at length on how I had one foot in the cancer world and the other in the LGBT world and that I was scared to drag one into the other but felt so alone in the middle. I felt like that for years.

My turning point was when I took part in an LGBT research project at my treatment hospital. It took a researcher to sit and listen to my experiences and appreciate the intersection of my queer personhood for me to feel valid. Up until that point I had retreated into queer autobiographies to survive, taking solace in the struggles of authors like David B. Feinberg and Jeanette Winterson. But now, I had had a real conversation and I knew it was possible to have more.

Full of this new vigour I asked my trust’s Macmillan centre to help me start a peer support group for other LGBT patients, Live Through This, and they threw their full weight behind me. Carried by the momentum of their support and my desire to meet other LGBT patients the group snowballed into a full charity that now supports and connects with people from all over the country and sometimes elsewhere in the world too.

What this journey has taught me is that you should never be afraid to speak your truth, because it is always valid. But in the same breath, I know that outing yourself to ask for support can feel difficult and complex, sometimes even unsafe. It is a lot of emotional labour to continually come out just to access equitable care, but that is why you don’t have to do it alone. If you need a friend, reach out. We can do it together.

For more LGBTQ+ info and advice 

Head to Live Through This