Aged just 20 years old, Dean Eastmond has lived a life more extraordinary than most. Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer last year, he has been credited with uniting the UK's lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBT) community after they raised £20,000 for his treatment. He has drawn attention to the lack of fertility rights for LGBT people and spoken out about sexual assault. And last week, despite still undergoing exhausting chemotherapy, he launched LGBT lifestyle magazine HISKIND.
Eastmond was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in May 2016. He was first hit with seemingly random stabs of excruciating pain in January, but thought nothing of it. When a lump measuring 6cm by 10cm appeared on his chest, he headed to A&E, still only suspecting that he had broken his rib. 10 days later, a doctor revealed he had Ewing’s Sarcoma. He was told there was a 50 per cent chance he'd die.
HISKIND magazine launch - In pictures
The diagnosis forced him to put his studies at Birmingham University on hold. And even though he didn’t know if he would live to see the first issue go to print, he promised to work with co-founder Josh Fletcher to set up HISKIND. “Mentally, it was the toughest thing I've ever had to do,” he tells The Independent.
“When I first got my diagnosis I thought I wouldn't be able to carry on and I'd have to put all my dreams on hold. But I’ve made sure that hasn't happened.”
“I hope it proves that when you're down and out you can still do something. Cancer patients are painted like we sit about all day doing nothing feeling sorry for ourselves and I wanted to challenge that.”
Eastmond saw the first draft of the magazine while he was in hospital in Florida receiving proton treatment not yet available in the UK. During his stay, he was able to visit the Pulse nightclub where 49 people were shot dead. That trip was made possible after the LGBT community crowdfunded £20,000 for him, with support from writer Owen Jones and the iconic London club G.A.Y.
“I honestly don't think I can truly ever give back to the community after that. Cancer is one of the loneliest things you can face because you're surrounded by people on wards but no one knows what it feels like it when the chemotherapy makes your fingertips numbs and messes with your thoughts.
“The day I was diagnosed was the day of the vigil for Orlando. I got diagnosed in the morning and I felt numb the whole day. I didn’t talk to my parents or boyfriend. I went to the vigil and looked around and realised that there is a community that I belong to. I saw people holding hands and holding candles and feeling genuine loss and mourning for people that we never knew or never will know. It made me realise that I was part of something despite feeling so isolated.”
Months later, Eastmond saw the first copy of HISKIND in hospital in Florida as he waited for his radiotherapy treatment. “When I saw it I was trying so hard not to cry,” he says.
“But I think the launch party was the highlight of the whole journey,” he says of an event at the Shoreditch House private members club in East London, attended by The 1975, and singers Lapsley and MNEK. “It was just pure elation. It was beyond happiness. When Josh made a speech about me on stage I stood awkwardly next to him and everyone gave me a hug after. It was the best feeling ever. I've always wanted to be a writer. After years of hard work it finally came together. It’s a feeling beyond words.”
Now, as well as completing two more cycles of chemotherapy, Eastmond has set himself the small task of eliminating shame in the LGBT community. With the magazine, coincidentally set up 50 years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, Eastmond and Fletcher want to celebrate emerging LGBT creatives, from drag queens, to stylists, writers, fashion designers and artists. By distributing copies free to 300 stores, coffee shops and bars across the UK, the pair want to bridge the gap between straight and LGBT media while acknowledging their community’s history and the ongoing fight for equality. Eastmond cites statistics from charity Stonewall, which show that 25 per cent of LGBT are not open to their work colleagues, and separate research by the US Human Rights Campaign, which revealed 62 per cent of millennials go back into the closet after starting their first job.
“If we are there representing people maybe people won't feel completely alone,” he says. Eastmond and Fletcher know that also means giving a platform to lesbian, bisexual and trans people, as well as people of colour.
“We have to appeal to the whole community and we can only do that if we represent the whole community. In the first issue there is an article about a trans artist doing performances at the Tate Modern. It would be ignorant to appeal to one type of gay person. I'm a white cis and gay and our community is a patchwork of identities and that’s what makes it so incredible.”
For now, as he recovers at home in Dorset, Eastmond is taking each day as it comes. “I didn’t know if I’d have a future, so I haven’t planned too far ahead. At the moment I want to carry on my freelance writing, go on holiday, and grow my hair back.”Reuse content