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Gilda's Club holds lecture on cancer and LGBTQ community
by Melissa Wasserman

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Gilda's Club Chicago held a lecture and discussion surrounding the LGBTQIA+ and cancer communities on March 22.

"There were a lot of ideas and a lot of great energy around the idea of forming a group that can address the needs of the LGBT communities that are impacted by cancer and one of our goals at Gilda's Club is to be able to serve all kinds of different communities, so we want to make sure we're a leader when it comes to addressing disparities and cancer," said Jeanette Santana-Gonzalez, program manager for Latino and community initiatives at Gilda's Club Chicago, who facilitated the evening's group discussion. "I think that this was a great starting point for us to start having those discussions so that we can expand our reach to the different communities in Chicagoland that are impacted by cancer."

Gilda's Club is a 501( c )( 3 ) non-profit cancer support organization that welcomes anyone whose life has been touched by any type of cancer in any way. Men, women, teens, children their families and everyone in between are welcome through the doors. Embracing the concept of community with the tagline "take on cancer together," the organization's mission is "to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community."

Gilda's Club Chicago is one of 50 affiliates of the Cancer Support Community. Serving to supplement medical care, Gilda's Club offers support groups, educational lectures, healthy lifestyle workshops, resource referrals and social opportunities.

Among the variety of programing that is offered in the space, "Cancer and the LGBTQIA+ Communities: What's Different" was offered to reflect on the differences that exist when someone with a cancer diagnosis identifies within the LGBTQIA+ communities. Laura Grimes, LCSW led the presentation, with a discussion centered on the impact for those who have been diagnosed or a loved one of someone who has been diagnosed.

Grimes is a licensed clinical social worker and owner of River Rock Psychotherapy & Consulting in Chicago and adjunct faculty at Loyola University Chicago. She has also worked for the Lesbian Community Cancer Project, Howard Brown Health Center and Gilda's Club, providing support to lesbian-identified individuals and their families.

In a continual conversation within queer communities around access to services and broadening the services that are out there, Grimes said at this gathering she thought it was important to emphasize "the inclusivity of all the different identities that encompass our community and the recognition that we have lots of thing in common and we can capitalize on those similarities and celebrate our differences."

Grimes spoke on the topics of what does a cancer diagnosis do to people within the LGBTQIA+ communities, the difference in the process and the unique difficulties when someone is gender variant.

"Our primary concern right now is the political climate and how the political climate is going to change our level of access and our level of feeling like people are knowledgeable, accepting and that we're comfortable in those spaces," said Grimes, who identifies as pansexual. "We take for granted, sometimes in Chicago, that we have access to particular places that are knowledgeable and we have hospitals that are LGBTQ-aware and yet for most of the country this is not true. So, there is still a vast difference and a much smaller network. Even for LGBTQ people in Chicago, they do not have the level of access that heterosexual people and cisgender people have."

Representatives from Howard Brown Health, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and University of Illinois were also in attendance for the intimate lecture/discussion that welcomed community members.

When talking about finding proper medical care, Grimes advised it is not enough for a doctor to just be LGBTQ embracing or accepting. They also have to be knowledgeable about how a person's identity fits within their healthcare needs.

Grimes added that while Gilda's Club is not especially recognized as an LGBTQ-focused space, it has always been great about being inclusive. After Grimes spoke, the event served as a platform for attendees to ask questions as well as voice their concerns and opinions for an LGBTQIA+ cancer networking group at Gilda's Club Chicago.

"We're hoping to revamp and reconnect and connect with other new partners to get enough people interested that we can again start offering psychosocial emotional support to the LGBT communities," said Santana-Gonzalez of a future LGBTQ support group at Gilda's Club Chicago.

For more information about Gilda's Club and its programming, visit .

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