Before COVID-19, cancer patients were united by their fight against the disease, no matter the difference in type, location or stage. Today, they’re united by another battle, one outside of their diagnosis — the fight to stay alive while immunosuppressed during a global pandemic.
Anita Barrow, 47, an ovarian cancer patient at UF Health, knows what it’s like to battle the two deadly diseases at once. In May, Barrow contracted the coronavirus.
“It felt like fire in my sinus cavity, and I lost all sense of smell and taste,” she said.
She immediately contacted her UF Health Cancer Center oncologist, Karen Daily, D.O., who instructed Barrow to stop taking her oral chemotherapy immediately. Her immune system was already weakened and needed to focus on fighting one disease at a time.
According to the American Cancer Society, patients who are currently fighting cancer and some cancer survivors are at higher risk for COVID-19 due to weakened immune systems caused by cancer and chemotherapy. Being higher risk means a greater chance of catching the infection and a higher chance of developing severe pneumonia or multiorgan system failure.
“I wish I could tell the person who exposed me that I had to stop taking my cancer medication, which prolongs my healing process and puts me at risk of my cancer coming back,” Barrow said.
For Barrow, the worst part of contracting COVID-19 hasn’t been the symptoms or the delay of her cancer treatment — it’s been the quarantine.
“I haven’t seen my oldest daughter and my granddaughter since Mother’s Day,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Harvey Budd, 72, agreed that living with cancer during a pandemic has been depressing at times, but he and his wife, Ilene, are thankful for the care they have received.
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