5 Tips for People Living with Serious Illness Who are LGBTQ+
June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community’s voices, culture, and civil rights. In honor of Pride, we spoke with Dr. Noelle Marie Javier, who is a palliative care doctor and a woman of transgender experience. She works with patients every day who are living with serious illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.
In our conversation with Dr. Javier, she shared a few things that people who identify as LGBTQ+ may want to keep in mind when visiting a palliative care doctor (or any other doctor, really!).
But First, What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.
Tips for People Who Identify as LGBTQ+
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Javier had a few things to share with patients and loved ones who identify as LGBTQ+:
- Your medical team does not know which gender(s) you identify with. Gender identity is how you identify inside of yourself, and gender expression is how you express yourself to the world. If you feel comfortable, you can share these with your medical team (e.g., “I identify as a woman”). You can also share your pronouns with your medical team if you feel comfortable doing so. If unfamiliar, gender pronouns are the words that we choose to use to refer to ourselves (e.g., she, her, hers). Sharing these with your medical team will help make sure that your pronouns are always used.
- If you have a different name that you like to go by, share it with your medical team. Your doctors and nurses will be spending a lot of time with you. They want you to feel comfortable as soon as you walk in the door.
- If you are comfortable sharing your sexual orientation with your medical team, feel free to do so. Your sexual orientation means who you are attracted to physically, sexually, romantically, and emotionally. No matter your sexuality or relationship status, it’s helpful to the medical team to know who you care about. Knowing this, the medical team can make sure to include them in conversations about your medical care, if you desire.
- More and more doctors’ offices and hospitals have started to ask their patients about sexual orientation and gender identity. They don’t do this to be nosy or make you feel uncomfortable. Instead, they want to be able to address your unique needs and concerns from the start. This information can also be used to update your records—if you choose to share it and give permission to do this.
- There are many resources about inclusive health care for the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and others to help you!
Noelle Marie Javier, MD, is a palliative medicine physician and associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Dr. Javier earned her medical degree from the University of the Philippines.