In this guest blog, Simon Faulkner reports from Out with Prostate Cancer, the first national conference that brought together gay, bisexual men and trans women affected by prostate cancer, and those who work to provide support. And he explains why there is such a need for events like this.
Simon, 53, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. He helped to found METRO Walnut, a south London support group for gay and bisexual men and trans women affected by prostate cancer, and is now the support group facilitator.
“According to a 2011 health survey by Stonewall (a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity), 68 per cent of gay and bisexual men aged over 50 have never discussed prostate cancer with a health professional. This figure is shocking, especially when you consider that everyone in this community has a prostate gland and could be affected.
“And men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer face a lack of knowledge among medical staff and a lack of information specifically for gay and bisexual men dealing with the disease. When I was first diagnosed with a prostate problem, over four years ago, there wasn’t really information aimed at a gay man. It was only when I talked about it with someone that I realised there were issues which weren’t being discussed.
“As Jim, a fellow member of METRO Walnut, said in a previous blog: ‘If you read about sexual side effects, there’s no consideration for gay men. Everything is geared up for vaginal intercourse. After my biopsy, I asked when I could have sex again. They said within 10 days. Well, what about anal sex, are you sure that’s the same?’ It’s great that we have bespoke information, like the Prostate Cancer UK leaflets or films of men talking about their sex life. But we need to keep winning people over.
“There is also very little understanding of the needs of trans women – people who are born male but identify themselves as female and may have had gender reassignment surgery. For example, they are often unlikely to be forthcoming about acknowledging they still have a prostate. And there’s a lack of support services generally. You can feel isolated living with prostate cancer as a gay or bisexual man and need to chat about things in an environment which feels comfortable and inclusive.
We need to understand the specific issues of all individuals affected by prostate cancer
“The conference, which took place in Manchester earlier this month, developed as a result of work by Prostate Cancer UK, the Lesbian & Gay Foundation and support groups Out With Prostate Cancer (Manchester), Out with Prostate Cancer (Midlands) and METRO Walnut. We all wanted to bring health professionals, support groups and cancer centres together underneath a GBT (gay, bisexual, transgender) theme, to share information and build on work that’s already happening.
“The speakers at the event really helped to achieve this. Dr Dan Saunders, Consultant Oncologist at Nottingham University Hospital, spoke about the need for training and understanding the differences and diversity amongst the GBT communities. Mr Vijay Sangar, Consultant Urological Surgeon at The Christie hospital in Manchester, spoke about the patient’s experience and how we must make the conversation with the GBT communities more inclusive. It was also great to hear from Jenny Anne Bishop, who was recently awarded an OBE for her dedication to trans equality. She spoke about the issues for trans women in accessing prostate cancer services, and how we need to improve the situation.
“Martin Wells and Sean Ralph from Manchester’s ‘Out with Prostate Cancer’ support group talked about how important it is that men who have sex with men and trans women become empowered to be role models, who could also use their insight to support heterosexual men dealing with life after prostate cancer.
This conference is hopefully the beginning of more targeted events being planned for this community
“I spoke at the conference myself and ran a training session to encourage gay, bisexual men and trans women living with prostate cancer to become mentors to help and support others through the challenges and difficulties of living with prostate cancer. But for me, the main focus was to work closer with health professionals because we need them to know the needs and concerns of GBT people. Speakers at the conference highlighted that training on this is important for healthcare providers and, although much had already been achieved by those present, made the point loud and clear that, in general cancer treatment and care, ‘treating all people the same is not equality’.
“Andrew Giliver from The Lesbian & Gay Foundation said: ‘We need to understand the specific issues of all individuals affected by prostate cancer and have a better understanding of the needs of this often invisible community.’
"But Andrew is seeing signs of progress. ‘There are many projects under way which are beginning to be more inclusive of gay, bisexual and trans people’s needs around cancers. This conference is hopefully the beginning of more targeted events being planned for this community.’ "
Read more about living with prostate cancer as a gay or bisexual man.