Being Gay With Cancer


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Cancer doesn’t discriminate, but many in the LGBT community fear discrimination when fighting this disease

A cancer diagnosis is almost always accompanied by feelings of fear and uncertainty.  But few realize that being gay and facing cancer brings a whole new array of challenges.   Many fear discrimination from their medical providers based on their sexual orientation.  This fear can have a negative impact on the care they seek out and, thus, their ability to fight this deadly disease. 

For heterosexuals, the idea that a doctor would not provide proper treatment based on who they love is completely foreign. Yet, past research – including a 2004 study in Women Health and a 2001 study from the American Journal of Public Health – indicates that many homosexuals do not tell their doctors about their sexual orientation specifically because they don’t want discrimination to affect the quality of health care they receive. This can make it harder to establish a strong connection with a provider and cause unnecessary stress for the patient.

Denise Cohen will be the first to tell you that medical discrimination is a legitimate concern among the LGBT community.  When a routine mammogram detected stage 3 breast cancer in June 2010, Denise’s first move was to visit a lawyer and start the appropriate paperwork to grant her partner of seven years, Liz Petropoulos, medical power of attorney.  She immediately realized that her battle against this disease would be different than the norm.

“We live in an area that is not very gay-friendly,” Denise explains, “and I was definitely nervous about going to the hospital with Liz.  I always introduced her as my friend.  You just never know what reaction you’ll get.”

The couple eventually pursued care at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City and lodging at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge.  While they originally came to New York to pursue better treatment options, they immediately noticed a change in the way they were perceived.

“No one looked at us funny or questioned how we were related,” says Liz.  “Especially at Hope Lodge- everyone was so supportive.  It was a breath of fresh air.”

"Hope Lodge is a discrimination-free zone," says Lindsay Edgar, Manager of Guest Services at Hope Lodge NYC.  "We reject labels like 'gay' and 'straight'... we even avoid labeling guests as 'patient' and 'caregiver'.  We foster community of support and acceptance and, as a result, we see friendships form that carry far beyond our walls."

Denise underwent a successful mastectomy last summer, and since then has been treated with Herceptin.  Currently she is cancer free and she credits the support she received at Hope Lodge and Sloane Kettering with her recovery.  For more information on cancer in the LGBT community or on Hope Lodge, please visit

Additional Resources:
Cancer Facts for Lesbians and Bisexual Women
Cancer Facts for Gay and Bisexual Men
American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in NYC


About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit