As a longtime volunteer for the Red Cross, Jeanne Dodge knows the value of gaining as much information as possible about a situation or injured individual before administering aid. Making assumptions without all the facts can result in more harm than good in an emergency.
Accordingly, when Dodge comes to Dana-Farber for her multiple myeloma treatment, she values that her identity as a lesbian woman is understood and respected by doctors, nurses, and support staff.
“It’s an important part of who I am, and who other LGBTQ+ people are,” says Dodge, 70, who uses she/her pronouns. “In order to be thought of as a whole person, it’s important to really know about someone — to know what their preferences might be and not raise an eyebrow.”
Dodge appreciates that Dana-Farber is constantly moving forward to make its LGBTQ+ patients and families feel more comfortable. She recalls not being asked her gender or pronouns when she first came to the Institute in 2018, but now, her gender and pronouns are in an online medical record accessible by her clinicians at each visit. In addition, she is an active participant in PRISM, a monthly virtual drop-in support group at Dana-Farber in which LGBTQ+ identifying individuals with a hematologic or oncologic diagnosis and treated here or at other area hospitals can share challenges and insights.
Advocacy and allyship
Dana-Farber’s commitment to LGBTQ+ patients has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which regularly names the Institute as a Healthcare Equality Index Top Performing Healthcare Facility based on Dana-Farber’s approach to and practices for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. Throughout LGBTQ+ Pride Month each June, the Progress Pride Flag — an updated version of the traditional rainbow Pride flag that also includes white, pink, and light blue stripes to represent the transgender community, and brown and black stripes to represent communities of color — is flown outside the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care as a sign of this dedication.
By understanding the health disparities that LGBTQ+ patients face and their higher risk for certain types of cancers, Dana-Farber offers equitable care and strong advocacy for these individuals. Its Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs), composed of cancer survivors and their loved ones, are committed to ensuring that the needs of all patients are taken into consideration at each step of their cancer journey.
“We, as the LGBTQ+ community, need to keep pushing forward and educating others on our needs,” says PFAC member Tim Stancell-Condron. “The most important thing I have seen is that conversations are now taking place in many different areas throughout Dana-Farber.”
Insights from the PFACs, as well as from Dana-Farber’s LGBTQ+ and Friends employee resource group, help clinicians, including Dodge’s oncologist Jacob Laubach, MD, MPP, provide more sensitive, equitable care.
“This is an important part of our efforts to create an environment where every patient feels welcomed and knows that who they are as an individual is understood and respected,” says Laubach. “When that happens, an individual can feel confident we are working together with them to provide the best possible individualized care for their condition.”
Knowing this advocacy exists is important to Dodge, who also recommends that everyone going through cancer treatment — no matter what their background or pronouns — have someone accompany them to all appointments.
“Everyone needs support, just as someone who speaks another language needs an interpreter,” Dodge says. “It doesn’t matter who that person is. If I want a girlfriend or another member of the LGBTQ+ community sitting there beside me, or visiting me in the hospital, that’s who I want.”