The Need for Affirmative Cancer Care

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Thank you for giving me the space to share a bit about my story and my connections to the AYA cancer community. I am a psychology professor and psychologist committed to health equity broadly, as well as specifically for the cancer community. As a bisexual cis woman and the mother of a child with an intellectual disability, I have seen firsthand the heteronormative bias and ableism embedded within the healthcare system (as well as educational and work structures), the critical need for caregiver and patient self-advocacy, and how so many voices are left out of the design of our healthcare system. I have learned how much my sense of the world, myself, my relationships, and what life may hold for my loved ones and myself can shift with a diagnosis. My research has been dedicated to collaborating with cancer survivors on how to best support them as they navigate all of the changes that may come with a diagnosis and how to create more affirmative healthcare.

This has led me to do research on the impact of cancer on AYA’s career development and work lives, and how to integrate self-compassion mindfulness based approaches in cancer care for survivors and caregivers. Within the last few years, I have shifted my focus to be not only on how to best support survivors in their well-being and career development, but also how to create change within the systems of which they are a part. I recognize the intense and unjust burden placed on survivors when trying to teach them skills to cope with inequitable and unresponsive systems, and the need for me to use my skill set and positionality as a psychological researcher to shift the focus to how inequitable systems themselves need to improve.

I have been honored to be able to collaborate with the National LGBT Cancer Network in the development of our most recent research project. This project examines how LGBTQ+ cancer survivors’ relationships with their oncology providers predicts their mental and physical health outcomes and their sense of connection with those providers. This topic may be especially relevant for AYA survivors given that over 30% of AYAs identified as LGBTQI+ in a recent Gallop poll. My hope is that this project provides empirical data on why it is so critical that oncology providers are culturally humble, establishing that culturally responsive care is associated clearly with the well-being of LGBTQI+ AYA cancer survivors. I would love for our data to be used as justification for cancer care centers to provide their oncology clinicians with trainings on affirmative cancer care. I really hope our findings can help to contribute to change within cancer care to more clearly recognize the importance of AYA survivors’ salient cultural identities, and integrate what’s important to AYA survivors into their care.

By: Trisha Raque