HRC Blog

Finding LGBT Friendly Faces in the Midst of Fear

This post comes from HRC Media Production Manager Ben Shallenberger:

“You have cancer.”

Those are three of the most terrifying words in the English language. Last year, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a type of intense blood cancer. I hardly had a few days to digest the news when my doctor sent me to the hospital for the first round of chemotherapy. I had no idea what to expect. I packed an overnight bag with some extra clothes and my phone charger, called a friend to come visit me when she could, and made my way over.

After a few minutes in my room, a team of nurses and doctors came in. All the necessary questions were answered, and they started explaining my chemotherapy regimen. Then, the doctor looked at me and said “I see you’re wearing an equality/HRC t-shirt. Are you a homosexual?” I immediately busted out laughing. At this point, I didn’t even know how to react. She asked me why I was laughing, and I responded “You just caught me off guard. I’ve never heard it asked so bluntly. Yes, I’m gay”.

The doctor then asked me what the proper way to ask was, since she didn’t want to offend any future patients. I applauded her for that, since I knew that her hospital was LGBT-inclusive. I researched ahead using HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index to find which hospitals in my area had enacted policies specific to the LGBT community. It was one of the deciding factors in me choosing where to begin treatment.

But then, the best part of my whole treatment experience happened. A nurse that I had never met before inserted an IV and whispered into my ear “Yeah, me too.” It was her way of telling me she was gay. Three small words started the most terrifying few months of my life. But another three small words brought me immense comfort. I knew that someone there, on that staff, involved in my daily care was on my side. Not just to help me get healthy again, but to encourage me. Someone there knew what it was like to be lesbian or gay.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been cancer-free since November. I am also happy to say that nurse has been a part of my life since. She and I have gotten together many times since my hospital stays, and I consider her a good friend. She proved the importance of not only being out in your place of work, but also of providing comfort and care unique to LGBT patients.

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