Dealing with the Effects of the Cancer Treatment

“Pre-op” patients are required on hospital admission to sign an Informed Consent form (which typically lists a huge number of adverse events that could occur)—and often need the presence of their ‘significant other’ or a family member to aid them in understanding the listed risks and/or receive their personal items (e.g., wallet or cell phone) before entering the pre-operative holding area. Meanwhile, hospitals will usually not discharge a post-surgical patient without someone to accompany him/her out of the facility.

Again, the possibility of a homophobic attitude from hospital personnel adds stress to the entire hospitalization experience. This is especially an issue for LGBT individuals getting their surgery at religious-affiliated medical centers. Thus, the closest hospital to home may not be the best in terms of empathy by the staff—and deter the willingness of a LGBT cancer patient to utilize that facility’s services, even if more convenient.

Radiation can cause burns and discomfort, while chemotherapy often causes fatigue and nausea. For cancer patients with metastasized tumors, many boring hours each week may be spent at a chemotherapy infusion center. Since the sexual orientation of cancer survivors is not included in the data collected by federal health agencies (such as the Centers for Disease Control or National Cancer Institute) or at the American Cancer Society, there is a dearth of research into the impact of inclusion of a gay or lesbian partner or friend in the treatment process, and its effect on the choice of continuation or cessation of treatment for LGBT cancer survivors.

No LGBT person wants to be subjected to humiliating interactions while undergoing a course of radiation or chemotherapy—so the ramifications in terms of cancer recurrence and mortality may be huge. Mountain climbers heading up a 4,000-foot peak may turn back on facing a boulder or inclement weather; they never reach their goal. Meanwhile, others persevere in the face of unexpected obstacles. This is an apt metaphor for the LGBT experience in terms of dealing with post-surgical therapies, and engaging with a multitude of health facility employees who may be uncomfortable and/or ignorant of LGBT issues.