In June, I joined a club that one in eight women become a part of each year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
None of us seek membership voluntarily. It seeks us. My heart pounded in my chest as my doctor rang to share the results of my biopsy. I asked my beloved wife Rainie to sit with me and hold my hand as the doctor delivered the news. In that moment we both began living a new normal. We put one foot in front of another and embarked upon the cancer journey. On this path, our love has deepened and our gratitude has expanded exponentially.
As I write this, I have four chemo treatments behind me and two more remaining. Surgery comes later this year followed by radiation. I am bald. I am determined. And I am lucky. Lucky that a routine mammogram caught the tumor early enough to treat it effectively. Lucky that I have good health insurance, which is not the reality for far too many people in the LGBTQ community. Lucky that I am married to an amazing woman who has stood by me for the past 20 years -- and whose heart has opened even wider to me during this uncertain time. Lucky as an out gay woman who is treated with dignity and respect by my health care providers. I know all too well from my work in the LGBTQ movement that I lead a privileged life. My LGBTQ brothers, sisters, and siblings in smaller cities in redder states are often denied what I must never take for granted.
One need only look to the vast resources of the National LGBT Cancer Network to understand more fully that, as the organization clearly states, "The LGBT community is disproportionately affected by cancer." A myriad of factors contribute to this reality, including a lack of research focused on our community; inadequate health insurance or no access to insurance at all; previous negative experiences in healthcare; discrimination that leads to higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption; higher rates of obesity among lesbians; and invisibility, among many other considerations.
Despite increased levels of acceptance in society, most health care forms do not invite us to disclose our sexual orientation or gender identity, and rarely are we asked directly by providers. When we can't bring our whole selves into treatment, we avoid the health care system and/or delay care, "resulting in cancers being detected when they are more difficult to treat."
Additionally, "transgender people face the greatest barriers to quality health care, coupled with a dearth of research on their cancer risks and experiences. They face frequent discrimination by health care providers, many of whom also lack information about trans bodies and health care needs."
I knew about these disparities before cancer came into my life, but now, with my diagnosis, I feel an even greater sense of urgency to use my own story and my own megaphone to help lessen the cancer rates among LGBTQ people. As the co-owner of an LGBTQI-focused public relations firm, I owe it to my LGBTQI family across this nation to do my part in this fight. If even one person reads this and gets that cancer screening they've been avoiding, I will have made a small but meaningful difference. But that is just a start. I hope to make a much greater impact by writing more, marching more, and speaking more about the cancer risks in our community.
As I continue down this road, I do have difficult days, mostly from the side effects of chemo. But my down times never last because I am bolstered by the deep love of some very special people who are standing firmly in my corner. More than 50 cards line my bureau. Yoga intentions and Reiki healings are sent my way. Prayers from supporters far and wide. Lifelong friends and new friends who have or have had breast cancer share their wisdom and lift me up. I vow to channel this glorious energy into loving myself, healing myself, and using my blessings for the greater good. The real journey is just beginning.
CINDI CREAGER is co-founder of CreagerCole Communications, a New York City based public relations firm with expertise in LGBTQI issues.