How my cancer diagnosis gave me the courage to come out
Charlotte Cox shares her moving story with DIVA
I knew I was gay at the age of 13, when I became smitten with this girl at school who had striking blonde hair, cute freckles and a Nike back pack. Scared of these new feelings and for fear of being bullied (I was already experiencing the brunt of the school bullies) I convinced myself that I just really liked her Nike backpack.
This denial and hiding the person I was continued for years. I used to fear normal conversations with my friends and family about love interests and feelings because I would have to think of another lie, another way to hide that I was gay. I became anxious every time the subject was bought up, I’d suppressed myself so much that I no longer knew or liked the person I had become.
13 years later, my life performed an almighty somersault. In March 2015, after two+ years of misdiagnosis and being told by GPs that I was "too young for anything serious to be wrong", I was diagnosed with lymphoma. The cancer was so advanced that a 10cm tumour had grown in my abdomen, there was a tumour in my neck and one was sitting snuggly behind my heart. It had also spread to my bone marrow.
Upon further investigation, I was told my cancer was incurable.
Faced with the possibility of dying you face some hard-hitting thoughts and questions. What had I achieved, what would I be remembered for? These thoughts plagued me. The cancer diagnosis shook me - but what upset and terrified me more was the thought of dying having not been in love, not truly happy and not being the person who I truly was. In the lead up to my diagnosis, I was a shell of myself, miserable, depressed and lonely and I knew this was because I hadn't come to terms with my sexuality.
Facing an unknown future, I felt determined to live life. The cancer diagnosis had unleashed an unfathomable strength within me and I felt empowered to be me and so I came out to my friends and my family. There was no reason for me to fear coming out - the people I loved loved me no less and if possible they loved me more for being honest and true. After I came out, they told me they noticed change in me. They said for the first time in so long, I looked happy. Fear and rejection that I had self-manifested had kept me from coming out and for the first time in so long I felt utter relief.
Five months into my chemotherapy, I met my girlfriend, Francesca. She's a phenomenal woman and has been right by my side throughout treatment and my driving force in getting better. We’re both living with my cancer and it has made us aware of how precious life and each other is. If I’d written a bucket list, "to love and be loved" would have been right at the very top and I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have been able to tick it off with her.
It shouldn't have taken a cancer diagnosis for me to come out, but I’m now embracing life, love and me and I can finally admit that it definitely just wasn’t her Nike backpack that I liked.
Charlotte is the founder of Lymphoma Out Loud, a lymphoma education and awareness charity aimed at 18-30 year olds.
You can follow her journey and the charity at lymphomaoutloud.org
Only reading DIVA online? You're missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It's pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.