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hand holding rainbow-coloured heart symbolNursing professor Kathryn Pfaff is leading a study aimed at improving the quality of life of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, questioning, two-spirit, or other non-binary identities along their cancer journeys.

Researchers seek to help LGBTQ2+ population navigate cancer journey

If you are a member of the LGBTQ2+ community and have a cancer diagnosis, UWindsor nursing professor Kathryn Pfaff invites you to join the Compassion Cancer Pride intervention project.

Dr. Pfaff is leading a study aimed at improving the quality of life of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, questioning, two-spirit, or other non-binary identities along their cancer journeys. Armed with a $30,000 research grant from the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation’s Seeds4Hope program, Pfaff says she hopes to enrol 40 participants to learn how to better support these people whose health and social care needs are often invisible.

“There is good data to suggest that people who identify as LGBTQ2+ have a disproportionate cancer burden,” Pfaff said. “Many are hesitant to seek cancer screening and have low social support, and this can result in poorer cancer outcomes.”

It’s unknown how many LGBTQ2+ people in Windsor-Essex have cancer because demographic data related to gender identity and sexual orientation are not collected in the local health care system. Studies have shown that LGBTQ2+ people face discrimination and stigma that lead to social isolation and discourage them from seeking preventative cancer care or other help.

The project uses a compassion communities model developed by a team of Ontario researchers including Pfaff. Together with the Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community, the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre, and Trans Wellness Ontario, the project aims to improve individual, family, and community wellness.

Pfaff’s team will look for ways to connect participants with supports in the community and to each other. The help the participants receive can be as small as familiarizing them with health apps and trackers, or as large as advocating for supports on their behalf. Participants can use as much or as little of the support as they need, Pfaff said.

Nine graduate and undergraduate students — eight from the Faculty of Nursing and one studying biomedical sciences — have volunteered to be part of research team. All volunteers received training through the provincial compassion communities organization. Shelley Evans, a PhD candidate in nursing, is the team’s gender champion and coached the volunteers in pronoun use as part of their training.

Participants will complete two surveys six months apart and will be invited to take part in interviews. Volunteers will help the participants complete the surveys if necessary.

The study will wrap up in August. The results will be published in a report that will be shared on the WE-Spark Health Institute website and through Hospice Palliative Care Ontario.

Pfaff said she hopes to expand the study in the future.

“We’re looking at outcomes and how applying a compassionate community approach for LGBTQ2+ people receiving cancer care in Windsor-Essex can help improve their quality of life and wellbeing.”

To participate or learn more about the study, visit the team’s Facebook page called Compassionate Cancer Pride.

—Sarah Sacheli