Ben’s Story: I opened up with their support. I’m gay with cancer

Ben was 22 when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Six months earlier, Ben said he had come out with his sexuality and started a new life. Whilst a new beginning was put on hold, it was his partner Mark who helped him through treatment and the support of Young Lives vs Cancer for them both. Here, Ben shares his story.

In June 2020 I had just come out with my sexuality and moved to Swindon to start a new life with my partner. Some months later in October, my tonsils became swollen and the doctors thought it was tonsillitis. By the end of November, I couldn’t swallow or eat and felt like I physically couldn’t breathe. That’s when an ambulance came and took me to hospital.

I had some blood tests done and they told me they were going to take my tonsils out. They said they were testing me for lymphoma too and did a bone marrow biopsy. When they got the results back, that’s when they told me it was cancer. It was the last thing I ever expected. I was 22. I thought I was young and healthy and I didn’t want to accept it.


Ben just before he was diagnosed with cancer.

My partner Mark was with me when I got the results. When we were sat down and told, I remember physically moving back in my chair. My partner was sitting next to me and asked what happens now. I left the room whilst my partner asked more questions about my treatment. I wasn’t quite in the moment and the nurse and doctor were asking me to acknowledge the information. I just thought no it’s not me, I am too young.

I had moved to Swindon to be happy and this made me feel like I wasn’t meant to be happy. When I got the results, I was in no fit state of mind to call my family and so my partner called them. If my partner hadn’t been there for me, I don’t think I would be here today. The level of emotional support he gave me just helped me so much.

I wasn’t allowed visitors in hospital pretty much for all of my treatment. I was being treated in Oxford, two hours away from my partner Mark, but he would still travel daily to me if I needed something and I could see him out the window. He would leave things at reception for me.

I just felt more isolated than anything with no visitors – you need that shoulder to cry on and home comforts and I couldn’t have that. Cancer is enough to deal with without doing it alone.

My partner Mark picked me up from hospital and if he wasn’t working, he would take me to appointments and wait outside for me, 5 or 6 hours, at a time. I was really weak and the fact I couldn’t have someone with me, Mark was my motivator and pushed me to do things. I just thought I couldn’t do this anymore and I didn’t have it in me to push myself.

Ben and his partner Mark, who supported him throughout his treatment.

At the beginning, it was a massive shock having cancer, once you are told it’s cancer you think instantly death, how long have I got, you have all those questions. Further down the diagnosis it has motivated me to live and not just survive.

Relapse is common in my cancer, in the nicest way they doctors have told me it’s something I’m going to live with. I’d love to live a normal life and work and do normal things.

From a positive view it’s making me live and make more memories. Seven weeks ago was my first holiday abroad – I went to Gran Canaria for the first time. And then I went back recently for a second time because I enjoyed it so much! It was a week of sun, not worrying about health, nobody knows me and can’t bring up my illness, it’s like I am living a normal life.

Ben on holiday in Gran Canaria. He loved it so much he went back again a month later!

I first met my Young Lives vs Cancer social worker the day I arrived in hospital. They were waiting beside my bed with a massive tub of sweets and all these leaflets and advice about what support was there for me. They would speak to Mark, and stay in touch with him to discuss my treatment and what I couldn’t put into words.

I looked at my social workers like my older sisters. Their role was to support me but they would always bring Mark into the conversation and ask how they could help him.

My Young Lives vs Cancer social worker Eirlys was brilliant. If I needed to speak to someone to rant, she would be there, she would offer things before I asked, and if Mark needed anything she was there, she was just amazing.

With nurses, I felt embarrassed to open up and say I have a boyfriend. With Eirlys, I felt supported and comfortable to open up.

When I was diagnosed there was a newspaper article about my diagnosis and I had some people trolling me online. People said I deserved cancer because of my sexuality.

After those comments I felt like hiding my sexuality within the hospital. But I opened up to Young Lives vs Cancer, I embraced I am gay with cancer, the support was there then, if I hide it what support is there? Now things like that make me want to embrace myself more. It’s OK to be gay.

My advice I would give any gay young person going through cancer would be to be truthful to yourself about your sexuality. Because there is support there for you. I was accepted for me. Young Lives vs Cancer have been the core strength for getting me through my diagnosis.

I recently got the all clear and rung the bell, and I’ve found life a bit overwhelming since. If anything it’s felt tough. It’s like I’ve been protected and had a structure all the way through treatment and now I’m just thrown back into the real world. Currently I’m living in a bubble of overwhelming feelings but I’m sure that this bubble will pop and reality will kick in soon.

Author: Jessica Browne

Posted on Monday 10 June 2024

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