Little more than a year ago, Dean Eastmond was like many other queer university students around the country; enjoying life in the company of friends from across the rainbow spectrum.
Then, in June 2016 — the same week as the Pulse nightclub shooting — he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. “I felt a pain in my chest in January of last year,” says Dean. “By May, there was a lump the size of a grapefruit. “I thought it was a bump from partying too hard on a night out, or a broken rib. But I went to A&E and they told me it was a tumour. A couple of weeks later, after tests and scans, they gave me the official diagnosis.”
Dean, a journalist and co-founder of queer magazine HISKIND, is no stranger to trauma. When he was 16, he was the victim of a sexual assault by a male friend, something he wrote about in The Independent in 2015 — breaking years of silence. Now, he’s opening up again, this time sharing his experience to help other young people fighting cancer. He’s penned articles for The Guardian, Teen Vogue and Vice, in a way that’s engaging, accessible and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Or, as he describes it, “putting humour in the tumour.”
Dean, now 21, adds: “Writing about my cancer takes my mind off it. There’s always been this sense of wanting to give back. I feel the only way to do that for me is by using my skill
set, and if my experiences and feelings about being gay and being someone with cancer can help someone else, then I might be doing my part.”
Due to the treatment required, Dean was told early on that he would become infertile. After discussing the implications of this with Adam, his partner of two years, he decided to use the sperm bank at the hospital, but there was a hitch.
“They told me that, because I was gay, if I died or became mentally incapable, my partner wouldn’t be able to use my sperm sample,” he says. “To me, that was like another closed door.”
He set about getting the policy changed, working with Buzzfeed UK to expose the outdated legislation and win an apology from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
Shortly afterwards the HFEA confirmed that the process for same-sex couples has now been brought in line with that for heterosexuals. “To let something like that slide, that could affect someone else down the road, would be wrong of me,” explains Dean. “Brave LGBT+ people fought for me in the past, so I should take up that torch. I know it’s not on the same level as fighting for the major rights, but it’s the least I can do.”
But the results of Dean’s latest scan showed that the cancer had spread farther and he now has less than a 20 per cent chance of survival. That’s something he’s found difficult to accept. “I come across so brave and positive online,” he says, his voice cracking, “but the reality is this is the toughest time of my life. I know that at times I’ll be in bed in hospital, curled up with tubes coming out of various body parts, thinking I should be covered in glitter partying in a club.”
With a new course of chemotherapy on the horizon, Dean remains hopeful that one day he’ll get the all clear. “The thing that’s got me through the past year has been the LGBT+ community,” he says. “Going into this next chapter, I know it’s going to be the same rejects, queers, queens and everything in between who stick around. “Knowing that I belong in that bubble is the most incredible thing. I’m fighting to be back in there.”
Read the rest of Dean’s story in the August issue of Attitude, out on July 20.