I Know Who I am: Patricia Voelker

April 29, 2015

2015Voelker-Patricia_mediumAs a former pastor in a church whose members were largely gay and lesbian, Patricia Voelker has counseled couples who have faced discrimination in different areas of life, including health care.

Her advice to at least one couple: “Get a new doctor.”

In 2013, Patricia, a now 74-year-old Lexington, South Carolina resident, had to deal with two breast cancer diagnoses – hers, and her daughter’s, who was diagnosed a few months before Patricia. In the past, Patricia has encountered healthcare professionals who were insensitive to, or ill-informed about the gay community. But as a lesbian woman in treatment for breast cancer, she says she hasn’t experienced discrimination from her cancer care team. Any problems she’s had with them have been strictly medical.

Patricia only came out to herself as a lesbian at age 39. Though she is open about her sexuality, (“I know who I am and I’m fine with who I am,” she says), it’s not something she declares when meeting a new doctor. It didn’t really come up while talking with her cancer care team. This is due, in part, to her single relationship status: She didn’t have to explain a same-sex partner at appointments. Her therapist knows about her sexual orientation, as does her nurse practitioner, who Patricia has been going to for years.

Her advice for other LGBT people with breast cancer is the same advice she’d give to straight people with breast cancer: Make sure you have doctors you trust, because ultimately, you have to be your own best advocate.

“Make sure you’ve got a good relationship with [healthcare professionals],” she said. “If you don’t, don’t feel bad about asking for another opinion or for changing to somebody else.”

Patricia says that being open and willing to talk about her sexuality is what feels right to her, but she knows that can come with risks for some people.

“I can’t guarantee you that you won’t lose a job, or you won’t lose a friend, or you won’t lose a family member,” she said. “All I can say is I’m out and it works for me.”

Patricia doesn’t have any plans to start dating, but she says breast cancer shouldn’t stop others from doing so. Neither she nor her daughter, nor anybody else, Patricia says, did anything to bring the cancer on themselves, so there should be no sense of shame associated with the disease.

“[Cancer] might bother somebody else enough that they would not want to be involved with you, but that would be their problem,” she says.

Today, she and her daughter are both doing well. After having a lumpectomy followed by radiation, Patricia sees her nurse practitioner every 3 months and is on daily hormonal therapy to treat the hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

She says she wanted to share her story to show what a wide spectrum of people there are in the breast cancer community – and even in the smaller, LGBT breast cancer community.

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