There are parts of the Garden State Parkway I hate driving on. Most of them involve having more than two lanes next to each other. I feel that things are out of control there. I’m never sure of who has the right of way when getting into that middle lane. I feel like I have to defend my right to be where I am and where I want to go. I like getting off at Exit 105, though, because getting to Highway 18 from there I have my own lane. I feel like I’m in control because I’m in my lane, where I’m supposed to be. There’s no debating where I’m going. It’s a little hectic getting to the Asbury Circle, but once I’m on it, or what’s left of a circle, I know I have the right of way getting onto 35. Traffic has to stop for me. That’s one less thing to worry about as I get onto Asbury Avenue.
I get the same feeling pulling into the QSpot LGBT Community Center parking lot. QSpot is a safe space. I have the right of way to be who I am. Being a member of the LGBT community is understood. Out of the way, so to speak. I can focus on other things. I came early one day for the LGBT Cancer Support Group to talk to the group’s organizer, Michael, about how the group serves the community.
I helped him get the group off the ground during the Covid lockdown back in 2020. We met quite a few times on Zoom to talk about what the group should be once we were able to meet in person. I met him this time to talk more about what the group has become and where it can go.
Michael started by saying that the group is all about self-advocacy. “It’s about establishing ongoing relations with a group of physicians who may be of a more traditional mindset, making self-disclosure inevitable,” Michael said. “One of my doctors who treated my prostate cancer asked me and my husband if we could get married. He said that he hadn’t been paying attention to legislation because he’d been busy treating cancer patients,” he continued. I had a similar experience with medical professionals treating my uveal melanoma. I had to explain to one doctor why describing me as single on a medical form was offensive, since I was legally married to my husband. Michael said, “It’s a forced marriage. There’s no LGBT cancer doctor. We often have to be the educator in a doctor-patient relationship.”
Michael and I agreed that at the support group meeting at QSpot there are no judgments. You don’t have to explain yourself. When we were first diagnosed, both of us had attended general cancer support groups. For Michael, when he disclosed that he was gay, there was an immediate detachment.
“There was no response,” he said. “That’s why it’s important that this group is peer-led. We offer a weekly, safe, confidential, and peer-led support group for LGBT warriors and survivors, where we share our cancer experiences with strength, hope, validation, and acceptance. We encourage each other to overcome the fear of coming out to providers. It’s already a difficult journey.
“There’s no need to feel disaffected because you’re different. In a way, it takes our LGBT identity out of the way, and any angst that may come with it, so that we can focus on the issues of having cancer.” For me, when the other members of the general group learned that I was gay, that became my identity. I was the gay person, not the eye cancer person. No one even paid attention to my cancer journey. After one uncomfortable and frustrating meeting, I left and never went back.
I feel good about our meetings in Asbury Park. It’s the same as when I’m driving and I know where I’m going and who has the right of way. Less to worry about and more time to focus on why I’m there. Of course, anyone is welcome to attend the meetings at QSpot. It’s at 1601 Asbury Ave. in Asbury Park.