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