Health challenges in transition

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

by Amanda Kerri
Trans Issues Columnist

Like most trans people, I don’t often like to talk about certain things in my past. We like to consider our old life, the one before transition, to be filled with experiences that don’t reflect who we are today. Either they are too painful, too misgendering or simply part of a past we would rather forget.

This may seem odd coming from me considering that I spend so much time talking about my past and I’m so public about being transgender. But I do like to keep some things personal and to myself. There are things that bring up too many bad memories, but sometimes you do have to reflect on them to garner lessons from them, especially when they impact your life.

One of those things I rarely talk about are my parents. Both died when I was young; my dad when I was 13 and my mother when I was 19.

Between school and the uncertain feelings, I started to act out. Prior to their deaths, my parents were thinking of sending me to a Catholic boarding school where I would be in a better environment.

After summer school, my dad, who was my Scoutmaster as well, died of a heart attack while we were on our summer trip white water rafting. My dad’s death was difficult because at the time he was my best friend in the world. Also, this was around the time when I started realizing that perhaps I wasn’t like the other boys.

Like all Southern funerals, dozens of people showed up to the house and noticed that my mom’s breasts were massively swollen. She excused it as a bug bite but they forced her to see a doctor.

A week after my dad died, my mother sat me down and told me that she had advanced breast cancer. The kind they tell you to “make arrangements” for.

That was not my favorite year.

I don’t think about it much or talk about it, but as I get older and closer to the ages they were when they died it comes back to my mind more and more. Most trans people don’t think about the fact that they are still subject to their family’s medical histories on top of the medical issues of being trans.

Transmen often forget that they still have the reproductive organs of a woman, unless they can afford the surgeries to have “things” removed. Transwomen, the same with testicular cancer.

At the same time, we’re also subject to ailments of our new gender. With transmen, it’s high blood pressure and heart disease and with transwomen, it’s breast cancer. No matter how modest your hormonal development in that area, you still end up with larger breasts than you had before and therefore an increased risk.

My dad’s death was brought on by heart disease and bad habits like salty, fatty foods, lack of exercise, as well as a two pack a day cigarette habit. I have become more aware of how that affects me. Especially since I have the same diet and only recently quit a twenty-year-long habit of smoking.

Now that I have transitioned, I have to think about the fact that my mom, who wasn’t much older than I am now, refused to recognize the signs of her illness. She reluctantly sought treatment for her cancer, a disease she fought for nearly five years.

That’s why to me, it’s important for trans people to recognize that even though they have transitioned, they still have the risks of their old gender as well as the ones of their new. Transwomen should start getting checked regularly for breast cancer. Transmen should watch for the hypertension and heart disease that men are more prone to having.

While I continue to not want to reflect on such a painful period of my life since it is part of my past, it remains an important part of it. Even more so now that I have changed my life for the sake of my mental health.

I need to embrace the painful lessons of poor self-care and use the knowledge to make sure I watch my health, especially with the new challenges and risks transitioning brings.

Copyright The Gayly – October 12, 2017 @ 6:55 a.m. CDT.