After being contacted by one of our members Clare, whose partner had sadly died of ovarian cancer, the Ovacome team became aware of the extent to which the experiences of LGBT people in cancer care can differ from those of cisgender people in heterosexual relationships. After our initial conversations with Clare, we began our work to help tackle these issues and ensure that the LGBT+ ovarian cancer community are able to count on our organisation for support.

Clare explained how throughout her partner Lesley’s treatment, they were forced to come out repeatedly to both medical professionals and other patients. Other Ovacome members have also since shared with us experiences of their identity being wrongly assumed by doctors and healthcare professionals. When confused as a family member or friend of a partner, it forces an unnecessarily stressful correction and clarification of the relationship. Clare further described anxiety around showing affection in front of other patients, causing added stress and feelings of worry. With support forums and reading material focused on mothers or daughters and heterosexual relationships, the lack of support for lesbian and bisexual women is apparent.

We now understand that LGBT people face substantial challenges throughout diagnosis and treatment and we are committed to tackling the issue. Earlier this year, our staff underwent training provided by the LGBT Foundation and Macmillan on the problems faced by the community. In this session, we looked at the ways in which we as a cancer support organisation can promote inclusivity more actively. We learnt how the understanding of different labels gives both healthcare professionals and service providers the opportunity to understand patients, members and their needs. Health inequalities negatively affect those who are LGBT+, in both the experience of cancer and the outcome. As a result of minority stress, LGBT+ individuals are more exposed to cancer risk factors, such as smoking and mental health disorders, which only further highlights the importance of inclusive cancer care and support.

We at Ovacome have since been making a conscious effort to tackle the specific issues highlighted during this session. We have adapted our language and media across the board to be more gender neutral, changing the way we address issues, share stories and gather information. Our LGBT+ focus group had their first meeting earlier this month, on 18 June. During this meeting, we explored with our members the various practical steps that we as an organisation can take to end discrimination and encourage inclusivity. We have begun work on the projects discussed and look forward to following this up in our next meeting.

We would like to encourage any LGBT+ people affected by ovarian caner, whether directly or indirectly, to join the next meeting or contact us to share their story. You can join the sessions by telephone or video call; please contact [email protected] or call 0800 008 7054 if you would like to contribute your thoughts and experiences to the meeting.

.

Read Clare's story in Diva magazine