Last week was my last one at BC Cancer. It was also my last week working in healthcare, after 30 plus years of being within earshot of the radiotherapy treatment machines beeping away I’ll miss the clinical environment. I’m moving provinces, to a job teaching and researching which I know I will love, but still there’s a sense of loss as I say good bye to helping patients find the exit (up one floor), working with clinical educators (universally awesome) and eavesdropping on waiting room conversations (some jaw dropping, some touching). I marked my last week with a lot of goodbyes, an evening of too much beer and some lovely speeches and a photo shoot at the Vancouver Cancer Centre.
The session was organised by our director of patient experience, to take some stock photos for our education material, posters etc. I was asked to take part because of a (mostly) off the cuff remark I made at a meeting a few months ago that I wrote about in this blog. We’d been reviewing our patient education material to see if it included representation for LGB and T people – it mostly didn’t. The images had been carefully selected for ethnic and racial diversity but (to me) no one looked remotely gay enough, the smiling women were all femme and long haired and all the couples were heterosexual. No one seemed to care much except me and a gay colleague – we were videoconferencing and had a lot to say to each other with the microphone safely muted! We both know that representation matters, that LGB and T patients scan the healthcare environment for signs of safety and images on walls and in brochures are important. A good example is the Canadian Cancer Society booklet “Sexuality and Cancer” (below). Finally, in a fit of frustration, I said that I’d volunteer to pose for a few stock pictures (I think the words I used were I’d be happy to “butch it up”). There was an awkward silence and we moved on to the next agenda item.
So, I was surprised to get an email inviting me to pose as a patient for the photo shoot last week. I felt considerable pressure not to let the side down (especially after my comments!) That morning I spent a lot of time staring into my wardrobe – I skipped the usual floral top and earrings, going for a baseball t shirt and denim jacket. I’d just had my hair cut so spiked it up. Was that enough? Was I identifiable???
The shoot was done in a crowded clinical area with patients coming and going around us. We had a pharmacist in a lab coat playing “the doctor” and a room full of patient volunteers. I felt a fraud as I listened to their stories, one woman with late stage cancer talked about her previous two terrible and current wonderful oncologist and how she’d learned not to put up with bad healthcare professionals (“time is too fucking short” she said). I knew one volunteer from other groups and sprang it on her that she was going to be my partner. She took it well. When the photographer asked for “family” shots he looked at the man next to me and suggested we come in. I grabbed my new lovers hand instead and we went for it.
The first scenario was “bad news” – I was the patient (only fair as my other half had already been through that). We giggled a lot, but also managed some serious award-winning acting with lots of loving embraces, hand holding and emotion. Then we were told to “talk” to the fake doctor (who did a good job of telling me about my upcoming chemo regime). We were encouraged to use our hands and gesticulate (I guess talking alone doesn’t shoot well) and we took a lot more pictures.
As I left (and hugged my temporary wife farewell) I weaved through actual patients, attending a new patient clinic, some of whom would be getting bad news for real. I hope some of the pictures we took make it into the waiting rooms and elevators, and I hope I looked gay enough – that we looked like a real couple. I’d love to think that in a few years someone sees me in my baseball shirt and denim jacket and relaxes just a tiny bit. That they feel that the cancer clinic is a place for them. It was a fitting way to say goodbye.