British Columbia

For non-binary musician Rae Spoon, a cervical cancer diagnosis came with an extra dimension of anxiety

The shock of Rae Spoon's diagnosis has been made even more difficult because cervical cancer is what the non-binary Victoria-based musician calls a "gendered cancer."

Victoria-based musician received 'gendered cancer' diagnosis after cancelling a tour due to COVID-19

Rae Spoon, who came out as transgender 20 years ago and then non-binary eight years ago, is a musician and writer based in Victoria. (Dave Todon)

A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing moment, and especially difficult during a pandemic. But for non-binary musician Rae Spoon, the diagnosis has stirred up another layer of complication.

Spoon, who uses the singular they pronoun, had been in the middle of cancelling flights for a planned tour of the U.K., Canada and Europe due to the COVID-19 pandemic when they received a phone call from their doctor saying Spoon had tested positive for cervical cancer.

"I think I was at peace with the 'my job is going to be really different for a long time' thing," Spoon told guest host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West, referring to the effects of the pandemic. 

But the diagnosis was another "shock" altogether, and one that's been made difficult because cervical cancer is what Spoon calls a "gendered cancer."

"All of the information I looked up … it's very hard to find any resources that don't involve gendering the person who has cervical cancer as a woman," they said.

As a non-binary person, Spoon does not identify as a man or woman. Spoon says having a gendered cancer means people will make assumptions about their gender and how they should be treated.

Spoon, who came out as transgender 20 years ago and then non-binary eight years ago, says the thought of being misgendered and being addressed with the wrong pronouns during treatment is an added stressor in a time already full of anxiety. 

Spoon says pronouns carry the same weight as somebody's name.

"I think it would be strange for anyone to be digging around in that part of your body, and then call them ... the wrong name. If your name was Chris and they called you Joe, it would be like 'what?'," Spoon said.

"And then it's like 'if you don't even know my name, do you even care?' ... that kind of thing."

Rae Spoon was a longlisted nominee for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize for their work My Prairie Home, an album of music that Spoon composed for a documentary film on their early life growing up in Calgary. (Foxx Foto)

Spoon says they are grateful to their family doctor, who had taken the additional step of calling ahead of time to let staff know Spoon's preferred pronouns.

Listen to the full interview with Rae Spoon:

Spoon says they are one of the lucky ones.

"Trans folks are often left out of screening and also for treatment, because things [like these types of cancer] are caught later as it has that gendered element," they explained. 

Depending on whether or not someone has physically transitioned or what secondary sex characteristics they may have, Spoon said, some people may not feel comfortable getting a pap smear or mammogram or prostate exam.

In a post on Medium, Spoon wrote that getting regular pap smears throughout their adult life was something they consciously did to avoid falling into this gap.

"I always saw it as a 'mission impossible' type of thing. A sort of revenge I could get by staying alive," they wrote.

Spoon doesn't know what their prognosis is — more testing needs to be done — but they are trying to spend this time making music and connecting with friends and family. 

"I'm always happy to be here. I spent so much of my life in bad situations, growing up when I was younger," Spoon said. 

"All of these situations that I get to be a part of now, I couldn't have imagined as a child."

With files from All Points West