A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20 – I didn't expect being gay to make it harder

I was told that one side effect of my treatment would be infertility – but when I went to freeze my sperm, the embryologist was genuinely shocked to find out I wasn't straight

Dean Eastmond
Monday 01 August 2016 17:22 BST
'Finding out you have cancer is the cliche you imagine it to be'
'Finding out you have cancer is the cliche you imagine it to be' (Chris Hondros/Getty)

As I type this, I’m recovering from my second round of chemotherapy for an aggressive rare cancer growing off a rib in my chest, with 12 more cycles to go until I hopefully get better. Hair loss, weight loss and the perpetual white/green tint to my skin has reduced me to somebody I don’t recognise when I stare back at myself in the mirror. But temporary side effects will heal, grow and get better. It is my fertility that will not.

In late May I noticed that one of my ribs was protruding far more than it should be after months of on and off pain. I got myself an Uber to A&E thinking it was the result of a typical student night out or me just sleeping funny, but after a few scans, I was told it was a tumour. Life became a bit of a turbulent water ride from then. More scans and biopsies revealed it was a rare and aggressive form of soft tissue cancer found in adolescents called Ewing’s Sarcoma.

Finding out you have cancer is the cliché you imagine it to be, complete with tearful parents and uncomfortable doctors explaining to you how hard you’ll find it all. Before you know it, there’s a tube tunnelling into your chest with drugs you still struggle to pronounce properly being pumped into you in hopes of making you better.

My date of diagnosis fell in the same week the world was mourning LGBT people murdered at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and I found the only way to numb the news of my cancer was to integrate myself in my community at a vigil held in Birmingham. Being side by side with other LGBT people in such a scenario allowed me to channel my anger, confusion and upset into something full of change and the notion that everything is temporary.

A few days later, I found myself in hospital to bank a sperm sample due to the likelihood of my treatment causing me to become infertile. The process is lengthy, full of awkward questions and signing dotted lines with an embryologist and it wasn't until I dropped a hint about being gay that she stopped and said, “Oh. These rules tend to follow the assumption that you're straight.”

During the process, I was told that if I died or became mentally incapable of having children, a same-sex partner would not be entitled access to my sperm sample, a rule that did not apply to heterosexual counterparts. This was then confirmed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority through an FOI request. It wasn't until further action was made by myself that the HFEA issued me an official apology, claimed they provided the wrong information and rectified it.

As a 20-year-old, I haven't thought too much about my desires to have children just yet. I still have a degree to finish, life to find in a big city and career to grow into. So to be told you're going to become infertile is a little unsettling on top of cancer.

I’ve understood that I’ll never procreate in a typical heterosexual narrative. It was always going to be complicated surrogacy or adoption if I ever wanted children. Growing up as a gay child, I’ve heard the same tired rhetoric that gay men shouldn’t father children rooted in an ideology that I’m not worthy to have children, time and time again. To now have that right, but a dysfunctional body denying me it, makes you feel like less of a person, somewhat incomplete.

But it’s not about me; it’s about choice, and the wants and needs of other LGBT people in the same position in the UK.

Being told “These rules don't apply to you” is another door closed in your face for being the person you are. Gay people are being denied access to drugs that prevent HIV, being denied the honour of donating our blood, and have only had equal access to surrogacy for six years. The discrimination out there is rooted in everything, especially healthcare. Experiencing that barrier was like coming up to a sign that: “Stop here – you’re different, and so you don’t belong in this system.”

To imagine that the same people who lit candles with me, stood in solidarity against hate and make the world a little warmer would ever be put in a position of not only losing their loved one to cancer, but being denied access to their sperm purely based on their gender, is a crisis that needs to be addressed. The laws on fertility for LGBT are confusing and stressful, and it is the duty of the HFEA to accommodate equal services to every creed of family. Cancer is hard enough; it shouldn’t be made harder just because you’re gay.

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