Cancer and Coronavirus

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Cancer cells  [by Yale Rosen, from flickr. com]

Cancer treatment during the coronavirus pandemic is something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now.  Then on Friday, Vox published an article on that very topic:  The dilemmas facing cancer doctors and patients in the coronavirus pandemic.  I encourage you to read it.

Cancer patients worry

While everyone is focused on coronavirus – for good reason – people with other medical conditions have additional worries.  Someone just diagnosed with cancer, for example, may be told they have to wait for treatment now.  I’ve heard from a cancer doctor that they have indeed delayed the start of treatment for some patients. 

Think about that for a minute.  Say you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.  After getting past the denial part, your mind will turn to wanting it removed as quickly as possible.  If your treatment is delayed, you’ll think about the cancer growing in your body.  The image of it will always be near the front of your mind.  You’ll wonder if the delay will doom your chances of survival or of living the rest of your life without further treatment.

Even if new cancer patients aren’t forced to wait, they may wonder if they’ll be able to complete the treatment.  Will coronavirus treatment overwhelm our healthcare system so much that the treatment gets interrupted?  And if they are able to complete the treatment, can they do so without contracting COVID-19?  With weakened immune systems, they’re more susceptible.  That’s especially true for people going through chemotherapy, as my mom (below right) did in 2005-06 and my dad in 2001.  (You can read more about my parents in my article, Love Is More Important Than Building Science.)

Allison Bailes with his sister and mom in 2006

We also lost a dear friend in the home performance industry to cancer recently, Mike Rogers.  I wrote about him in an article titled, Buildings Aren't Permanent...And Neither Are People.  I'm sure almost everyone has been affected by cancer in some way.  The good news is that we're much better at treating it than we were, but that all depends on a fully functioning healthcare system.

We need to apply the hammer

In my last article, A Coronavirus Roundup From Energy Vanguard, I encouraged you to read Coronavirus:  Why You Must Act Now by Tomas Pueyo.  That article was written on 10 March.  Pueyo wrote a followup article called Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance, and that one's even more important for you to read.  It's a long article with a lot of supporting data, but let me give you the short summary here.

Pueyo says we have two options (excluding doing nothing):  mitigation or suppression.  Currently in the US, we're going for mitigation.  The result is that hundreds of thousands or millions will die.  We may delay a lot of the deaths by pushing the peak back for some months, but mitigation is a losing strategy.

Suppression is the only valid strategy, and that means going at it as hard as possible:  Keeping people apart, lots of testing, tracing the contacts of those who test positive, and more.  Yes, it will be difficult.  Yes, it will be terrible for the economy.  But it's the only way to keep the deaths in the thousands or tens of thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands or millions.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have the idea that this will take three or four months of massive lockdown to accomplish.  Not true.  China and South Korea did it in a matter of weeks, not months.  Read the article!

The benefit of doing this, of course, is that we save a lot of lives.  And the reason we get that outcome is because we keep the healthcare system from being totally overwhelmed.  And that means cancer patients can continue to get treatment, not to mention those who have heart attacks, strokes, and other maladies requiring medical care.

It's personal

The reason this topic has been on my mind is that I’m three weeks into radiation treatment for prostate cancer.  I was diagnosed a year ago.  I had a prostatectomy last summer but still had some cancer left in my body (as evidenced by my PSA not going to zero).  Every morning I drive to the radiation clinic for my 7:30 appointment.  (Perhaps you're reading this while I'm lying on the table getting blasted with 10 second bursts of gamma rays.)  I’m 15 treatments in and have 21 to go.  That’s another 4 weeks and a day I need to keep going.

The risk to me is nowhere near as high as it is for patients with metastatic cancer going through harsher treatment programs.  Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable and is usually caught early.  (Men of a certain age, get your PSA tested every year!)

Please heed the warnings of the health experts and government officials.  It’s not just your health that could be affected.  Read the article at Vox for more about cancer and coronavirus.

My plea to everyone is to stay home if you can, practice social distancing, and wash your hands before and after going out.  We need the workers in essential services to be able to do their jobs and that includes all those people at cancer treatment clinics.

 

Allison Bailes of Atlanta, Georgia, is a speaker, writer, building science consultant, and the founder of Energy Vanguard. He is also the author of the Energy Vanguard Blog.  You can follow him on Twitter at @EnergyVanguard and pre-order his upcoming book at Publishizer.

 

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Buildings Aren't Permanent...And Neither Are People

A Coronavirus Roundup From Energy Vanguard

 

Photo of cancer cells by Yale Rosen from flickr.com, used under a Creative Commons license.

 

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Comments

Allison I do wish you luck with your treatment. My wife is presently undergoing treatment and has a weakened immune system and for that I am very concerned as well. But I am commenting not as a sympathetic person, but one with 25+ years in managing highly complex international supply lines of very diverse type and origin. Suppression is not an option because test kits are not widely available to test everyone. South Korea identified their first case of the virus just one day before the US did - IN JANUARY - and within two weeks they were pumping out valid tests to tens of thousands of people - not because they were suspected, but because they were testing everyone they could to identify and isolate. THEY HAVE APPEARED TO SUPPRESS THE VIRUS. The United States spends more than one-half of our budget on the Defense Industry and the Armed Forces. Yet they are not the front-line for the current defense of our country - the for-profit healthcare industry is. Where I live in North Carolina rural hospitals and medical centers are closing at an alarming rate because they are not profitable to operate. In Asheville doctors and nurses have been leaving the only hospital in town because it was taken over by HCA out of Nashville and many are upset with the changes being made - all in the name of efficiency. And now this virus. Mitigation is our only hope if we have no better option and if our internal national defense infrastructure is so lacking in substance and priorities, and leadership. A strong mind (education) and a strong body (health care) are the FIRST lines of a nation's defense - and the US is flailing wildly. If you look to a nation's budget to try and understand their priorities, these two most important items are not prioritized and are instead continuously being whittled down. That is why I am so concerned - we reap what we sow.

Allison
Bailes

Charles, thanks for your comment.  I respectfully disagree with your two main assumptions.  Suppression not only IS an option, but there's not much hope in going the mitigation route.  Read Coronavirus:  The Hammer and the Dance to find the details.  Basically, mitigation doesn't spare the healthcare system from being overwhelmed and it doesn't save many lives.  It merely delays the peak, which is nearly as bad.

Suppression is the only option that makes sense.  Is it going to be difficult?  Absolutely.  Is it impossible?  Absolutely not.  Trump could use the power of the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of the supplies need, and he could do it today.  (He should have done weeks ago, but let's focus on where we are now.)  Look at what we did in World War II.  We can do this.

'The United States spends more than one-half of our budget on the Defense Industry and the Armed Forces.'

when I look at the pie chart, its those great programs called SS and Medicare that are more than 50% No?

Thanks for sharing Allison- I am afraid that by the time the petition reaches 100K it will be too late.

My apologies - I should have said of about 50% of "discretionary spending" - which is the part of the budget that the government points to priorities, not interest payments or other payments already required by law.

Hi Allison - you may have missed my point. In the current scenario WIDESPREAD TESTING IS NOT AN ALTERNATIVE because in spite of our government (Trump) saying that testing is broadly available and anyone that wants it can get it - that is not the case. And you simply saying "Trump could use the power of..." reinforces the fact that he has not, so it is not an option. At all. Not even to consider. We must deal with the facts as they are now, and therefore staying hunkered down in our homes is the only course of action - no others are available to us because the government has not made those resources available. And private industry has proven that they will profit even in times of disaster - yes I understand that's what capitalism is all about - making maximum profit off of disaster - since we are seeing states having to bid against each other for scarce resources.

I'm sorry to hear about your diagnosis, Allison. Thank you for sharing your story.

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