On Meds

Transgender Man Denied Proper Diagnosis, Care For Breast Cancer

56-year-old transgendered New Yorker Jay Kallio has a list of medical complications including kidney failure and rheumatoid arthritis, but his breast cancer led to even more complications when discrimination and ignorance exacerbated his condition.

Kallio transitioned six years ago, though he’s never undergone gender-reassignment surgery—opting instead for just hormone treatments. Tragically, when he tested positive for breast cancer, the attending surgeon was so taken aback he didn’t tell Kallio about the biopsy results.

“I think the surgeon had a complex feeling of moral objection. A certain type of judgment and suspicion was made,” Kallio told ABC News. “He was an experienced surgeon and I needed the benefit of his opinion. He didn’t know what to call me… and he had trouble with my transgender status. It was very overt, but at least he had the forthrightness to talk about it.”

By the time Kallio was informed of his cancer—accidentally by a lab technician who had called inquiring about his diagnosis—and finally found a doctor willing to treat him, Kallio’s cancer had progressed beyond the possibility of chemotherapy.

Later, Kallio encountered a hostile oncologist who refused to advise him on treatment. Though the doctor inevitably apologized, he claimed “I don’t think it interfered with the quality of your care.”

That Kallio considered foregoing medical treatment alltogether, was forced into an HMO that didn’t accept his oncologist, has to find a new doctor willing to treat him—and to this day is still not sure whether the cancer is in remission—is proof otherwise.

Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is frightfully commonplace: According to a National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) survey, one in five trans people have been denied medical care from doctors, clinics, hospitals and ambulance drivers. Under the Affordable Care Act, however, discrimination against transgender and LGBT patients is illegal in federally funded healthcare programs.

“Now, if a patient divulges he or she is transgender, if the doctor consistently mixes the genders or misnames someone or treats anybody in unkind ways, [the patient] has recourse to file complaints,” NCTE spokesperson Vincent Paolo Villano said.

This comes as a relief to Kallio, who hopes other transgender folks don’t have to go through what he did:  “I am medically savvy with a medical background, [am] white and speak English,” he said. “If I have every advantage [and was still discriminated against], it doesn’t bode well for other people.”

Photo: Jay Kallio