You’d think cancer would be the Elephant in the Room. It’s not. The people who don’t want to talk about it simply never enter the room. The ones who are brave enough to join us there tend to have an intense curiosity about Leah’s experience. They ask a lot of questions about the details. They know they could be in her shoes (bra) someday and they want to understand.
So what’s the Elephant in the Room then? Well, it’s me. The wife. Without me in the room, Leah is a patient. With me, she is a lesbian patient. And I’m the other lesbian. And it is easier to ignore me than it is to acknowledge the elephant.
We’ve met with two doctors so far who walked in the room, said, “Which one of you is Leah?” and then didn’t greet me, introduce themselves to me, or even make eye contact with me during the appointment. I was invisible. I was Leah’s sister. Or Leah’s friend. Or the person who gave Leah a ride and didn’t want to hang out alone in the waiting room so here I was tagging along in the exam room for, oh, I don’t know, how about one of the most intimate and distressing conversations of Leah’s life?
This might not bother me if we were at the doctor’s office for a flu shot or a strep test. But the words out of these doctors’ mouths include things like, “You have to have chemotherapy for 18 weeks,” and “You’re going to lose all of your hair,” and “The side effects include DEATH. Now sign the consent form at the bottom.” The doctors know that most people don’t make decisions about cancer treatment alone. I am 100% certain that if I were a man sitting next to Leah, they would have assumed I was her husband, and I would have been included in the conversation from the start.
Whether or not I will be acknowledged as Leah’s wife should be the last thing on my mind during a time of crisis. But doctors like this remind me – and Leah – that we still need push for some people to respect our relationship. I speak up, I jump in, I contribute. The doctors look surprised, then start to talk to me, too. This elephant has a big mouth and asks intelligent questions.
Are you sisters? Leah chooses to introduce me from the start now. “This is Amelia. She is my wife.” Nice to meet you, most of them say. The ones who pause to freak out about our sexuality need to suck it up, because cancer doesn’t discriminate. This is a life or death situation, and we haven’t got the time or energy to battle homophobia.