Archive: Meet the 20-year-old cancer patient fighting LGBT bias in healthcare

In February 2017 National Student Editor Lucy Miller spoke to Dean Eastmond about his mission to change the way LGBT individuals were treated whilst undergoing cancer treatment.

Whilst Dean’s campaign to change the law regarding fertility rights for gay couples was successful, sadly his fight against cancer was not. In light of Dean’s passing on Sunday 3rdSeptember we have decided to republish the interview, which was originally included in The National Student’s spring print magazine, to pay tribute to the extraordinary things he achieved in his short life.

Embarking on a journalism career, being diagnosed with cancer, spending two and a half months in Florida undergoing Proton Beam Therapy, and finally being named one of Buzzfeed’s top LGBT people of 2016 — the last 18 months have been more than a little bit unexpected for one-time National Student writer/University of Birmingham linguistics student and now freelance journalist Dean Eastmond.

We catch Dean on a “bit of a mad day” — in fact, he’s waiting to start the tenth round of chemo for Ewing’s Sarcoma, the rare form of bone and soft tissue cancer that unexpectedly manifested itself in his ribcage in the summer of 2015.

As it stands, Dean can’t start his planned course of chemo today — because “there are no beds in the hospital.”

It is, he says, “a little hectic.”

Dean was diagnosed right after his second year of university, and has “since watched it take my education, my house, my social life and any sense of normality away from me.”

He cites being told he would never naturally father children, having needles pushed into his neck, chest, arms, stomach (“and god knows where else”), missing his boyfriend whilst in America for treatment and “being constantly readmitted after chemotherapy when my immune system caves in” as just some of the difficult things he’s had to deal with.

The worst, though, has been observing, whilst in hospital, the families whose children haven’t made it.

“I can deal with my pain and diagnosis privately, but seeing others hurt and suffer breaks my heart and brings back the reality that cancer is really, really awful,” he says.

“Often, the worst and hardest moments are the mundane moments where time seems to stop. Hours have been spent staring at ceiling walls, watching my friends live their lives on Snapchat while I fight for my life and fill myself with frustration for not being able to do the same.”

Journalism, in a way, has acted as a lifeline.

“Cancer offers you a niche insight into a world many people want to know about, but are usually too afraid to ask,” he says.

“Extensively writing about my experiences has not only helped me progress my career and helped plenty of others, but has kept me somehow sane.”

He adds: “Working tirelessly on HISKIND (the gay men’s lifestyle magazine that he launched with Josh Fletcher in 2016) has ensured I have some shot of a future beyond cancer and drives me into repeating the same old rhetoric that everything is transient and how I am now is hopefully not how I’ll be this time next year.”

There have been clear moments of triumph, too. Last year Dean found that, despite having had his sperm frozen, his boyfriend Adam would not be able to access it in the case of his death — something that would not have been the case for a heterosexual couple.

After working with Buzzfeed News to publicise the issue a report commissioned by the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) concluded that Dean had been given the “wrong information on multiple occasions.”

Dean was issued an apology, but it wasn’t the only time he encountered problems as a gay man during his treatment.

He says: “LGBT representation isn’t exactly extensive in healthcare. I often feel like I have to go back in the closet on various wards. There have been occasions where I’ve been called a “little faggot” or “dirty queer” by other patients simply for my boyfriend sticking by my side whilst the chemo is pumped into my chest.

“But, in our current global political climate, I’m not going to cower away from who I am because it makes someone uncomfortable. (In) 2017, I will be queerer and more unapologetically so.”

And what about being named one of Buzzfeed’s top LGBT people of 2016?

He says, “It was such an honour to be recognised… Fighting for LGBT rights, visibility and representation allows me to channel all the negatives of cancer into something productive, resourceful and, hopefully, worthwhile.”

He adds: “Dealing with having to fight for my rights as a gay man as well as dealing with cancer was a tough one, but if I’ve changed anything for any LGBT patient in the future, the stress of it all was worth it.”

It’s a hopeful message, and Dean’s followers on social media may see the face he puts online and assume that he has managed to stay positive throughout his treatment — but that’s because he’s made a deliberate choice to position it that way.

He says: “I don’t think people really want to read about the gross and painful side of cancer all the time, because it makes them feel uncomfortable. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that talking about disease is still so taboo.

“In all honesty, it’s a case of forcing yourself to be positive, standing in front of the mirror every morning and being thankful for the body parts that do actually work and don’t hurt for once.

“Having cancer means you’re constantly surrounded by death. The cliché that ‘life is short’ becomes so clear and I realise, if these do turn out to be my last months alive, why waste them on tears?”

In 2017, he says, “Not dying would be fabulous.” In pursuit of that goal, he’s got five more cycles of chemotherapy to contend with, before undergoing an operation “where half my chest will be removed”.

It sounds daunting, but as ever Dean is looking forward — and to a future when “fingers crossed, my head will start sprouting hair again, I won’t resemble an egg anymore and I’ll be able to live my life the way I’ve wanted to for too long now.”

Originally published at https://www.thenationalstudent.com.