Appling’s Glenda Dunn, 55, has a mask and hand sanitizer by the front door for reasons, and it’s not negotiable.
“I’m going to wear a mask when I come to my house,” said Dan, who is being treated for breast cancer. “They get it and disinfect it. If they don’t want it, they’re at the front door.”
Dan, whose immune system has been compromised by her treatment, was diagnosed late last year in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic. The disruption in care, diagnosis and treatment of patients like her not only had an immediate impact on their health, but would have serious consequences in the distant future, doctors said.
Norman Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, estimated that the turmoil caused by the pandemic would kill another 10,000 people in the next decade from breast and colon cancer alone. Another estimate published in The Lancet Oncology predicts that delays in diagnosis will increase breast cancer deaths by as much as 9.6% over the next five years.
These confusions were exacerbated at the beginning of the pandemic. Researchers investigating a national breast and cervical cancer early detection program that helps low-income, uninsured women to be screened in April 2020 compared to the same month’s average for the past five years. We saw a sharp 87% decrease in breast cancer screening. From 19 and 366 to 2,607, according to preventive medicine research.The study found that the rate had recovered somewhat by June, but was still 39% lower than in the previous year.
Dr. Alicia Huff Vineyard, a surgical oncology scholar at the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University, said even these short delays could have consequences.
“The mammogram is the place to catch it before you feel it, and catch it much earlier,” she said. “There were some patients who postponed the mammogram for 6 months to 1 year, and unfortunately, due to the delay, small or more advanced cancers were found.”
This was the case with Jeanne Harrison (76), who had faithfully received her mammogram at AU Health for 25 years because her mother had cancer in both breasts. Then last year she had to miss it for a pandemic, which she feels many women did.
“There were many of us who didn’t want to go to the hospital because of the virus,” said retired lawyer Harrison. However, after that, she was doing a self-examination and found a small lump in her right breast. It was removed by Dr. Vineyard with a mastectomy. Still, she considers herself lucky.
“I was very lucky, but not worse,” said Harrison, who is still facing radiation therapy and a year of chemotherapy.
It wasn’t just the diagnosis that was delayed. During this recent surge in COVID-19, AU Medical Center managers turned the surgical recovery room into a temporary ICU due to lack of beds in the intensive care unit. Vineyard needed the room for patients who were already scheduled for breast cancer surgery, but it had to be postponed. Fortunately, it was an outpatient, and Vineyard took her to a surgical center in Columbia County about 10 days later, but the delay hit the patient.
“Mentally, it was hard for her. She told me so,” Vineyard said. “She knew there was nothing we could do about it.”
Even if the COVID-19 pandemic diminishes, cancer patients with weakened immunity are constantly at risk of infection.
“That’s a big risk,” Vineyard said. Her patients “have a much higher risk of infections and serious complications because they cannot initiate a good immune response,” she said.
That’s why Dan always has an antibacterial cloth when he goes out. “When I go out of my house, I’ll wipe it out,” she said. “If you want, you can call me a delusion, but I’m just cautious because I know my immune system is at stake.”
It is also the reason why cancer centers have to pay attention to who is allowed around the patient. In many cases, family members and friends who usually accompany the patient to support the patient are not there. In one case during the COVID-19 surge, it was a woman who underwent double mastectomy.
“The young woman had to be picked up by her husband, he couldn’t be there at all during the whole process,” Vineyard said.
Its serious lack of support has hit all her patients.
“Similar to other patients who have undergone chemotherapy and surgery on their own, no one kisses their cheeks before returning to the operating room,” Vineyard said. “It’s clearly very different from what we’ve been able to offer to patients.”
Vineyard’s own seizures with COVID-19 affected Dan’s care. The doctor was diagnosed last December, the day before receiving the first injection of the vaccine. She was quarantined when she submitted the results of Dan’s biopsy.
“I actually had to give her those results in effect, but it’s not exactly the same,” he said, sitting with the patient and family and considering what was found and treatment options. Vineyard said the test, which he likes and may also do a physical examination. “She handled the news very well and we talked about what treatment options we have, but while I’m still in quarantine and can’t do anything else, I’ll give you such news. It was really hard to tell. “
Vineyard knows how important personal contact and support is to the patient, as she is a breast cancer survivor herself. In the case of Dan, her support never left her side. It was her husband, Alonzo.
“It was a little hard (due to the pandemic),” she said. “But my husband is very strong and he keeps me moving. He was thick and thin with me. He never missed his promise with me.”
According to Alonzo, the two who knew each other for more than 45 years growing up in Appling became intimate.
“You mesh into one,” he said. Therefore, not going with her on every visit was not an option, Alonzo said.
“I had to be there for her,” he said.
Dan said Alonzo has a way to feel good about anything.
“I tell you one thing, if laughter is the best medicine, I can live forever as long as he is here,” she said. “He makes me laugh every day.”
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