I was 23 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was on my gap year, travelling around Australia and starting to explore myself, my wants, my desires and what I truly wanted out of this life. When the “Big C” thrust itself into my life, this was snatched from me. I had never felt so betrayed by my own body in my life.
I had always known I was gay, but I never truly embraced being a member of the LGBTQ+ community until recently. I had always struggled with my identity in this sense, but cancer made this worse.
When cancer hit, I entered crisis mode. I was so confused and so much was changing. I had placed a lot of my self-esteem in how I looked, how I dressed, how I had my hair that day. Suddenly, this was taken away. I looked sick. I was bald. I had swollen up from steroids. So, when this was taken away, I started to question who I was. However, I quickly adapted. My self-esteem became less about my physical identity, but more about my emotional identity and accepting myself.
With this level of growth in accepting myself, accepting my LGBTQ+ identity was still left behind. If anything, it was worse than ever. The thought of a relationship was terrifying. When I got the news of my remission (woohoo!), and my hair started to grow back, I placed far more weight on my ability to do anything!
If I could get through cancer, I could do anything! And… I started to truly believe it. With this, the way others perceived me had changed too. I was no longer just seen as “Jamie, he is gay.” I was now seen as “Jamie, he beat cancer! He’s pretty amazing!” My confidence had just shot through the roof.
Cancer treatment takes a chunk of your identity with it
When I made the difficult decision to return to university a few months after I finished treatment, still in a global pandemic, I had never felt so isolated in my life. I decided that I was going to involve myself in university groups. For the first time, I met other LGBTQ+ people.
Coming from a very small town in the West of Scotland, for a long time, I was a square peg in a round hole. But finally, I felt at home. Being able to talk about my experiences and my concerns was so uplifting.
I finally felt part of a community that I longed for, for so long. If it had not been for cancer, I am almost entirely confident I would have stayed in that persistent state of purgatory.
My biggest takeaway from my cancer treatment, whether that be chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, or surgery, is that it’s gruelling. It’s hard. But it also takes a chunk of your identity with it. The most important thing for me, was acceptance. Accepting my diagnosis, but also accepting that I am in control. Accepting that life is short so accepting the person you are. The whole person.
It is important to talk about your concerns. Whether that be with your friends, counsellors, parents, teachers or even yourself. If you asked me a year ago, I thought my LGBTQ+ identity was gone forever and I could not see how I could let someone in. But this is temporary.
As cliché as it sounds, time is a healer and it gets easier. Be kind to yourself, give yourself time but most importantly, love and embrace yourself. If you don’t, how can someone else? There is a massive, loving community out there, just waiting for you. Embrace it.