Column: Covid and other cancer patients

I don’t have much to report about my own cancer treatment this week. I’m laser focused on the last of my chemotherapy treatments, which should be this week.
But seeing as how my column is about having cancer during the pandemic, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about how COVID-19 has affected cancer patients in general. Michelle Chappell and Juliana Frederick of the American Cancer Society were nice enough to let me pick their brains on the topic.
According to a survey conducted this spring by the American Cancer Society, the most commonly reported impact to cancer patients and survivors was a delay in health care.
The organization surveyed 1,200 cancer patients and survivors. It found that 79 percent of those in active cancer treatment and 78 percent of those not in active treatment experienced delays in their health care because of COVID-19.
Missing health care appointments can mean that doctors don’t find cancer recurrences as quickly as they would otherwise.
“Cancer care includes a range of services, including consultation with providers to plan and administer care for their cancer, anti-cancer therapies and surgery, imaging to determine if their cancer has grown or returned, and other health care directly related to their cancer,” Frederick said. “Checkups and screenings are an important part of cancer survivor follow-up care and delaying or missing these could delay the detection of a recurrence of their cancer.”
One fifth of the cancer patients and survivors who were surveyed said they were concerned that their cancer was growing or that it had returned because of delays in getting health care.
Seventeen percent of those who were surveyed reported a delay in their cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation. Luckily for me I didn’t share that experience with them.
The number of certain types of cancer screenings also decreased during COVID-19, which could prevent doctors from finding and treating cancer when it’s at an early stage. Between January and April of this year, the number of screenings for colon cancer given nationally was down 90 percent compared to 2019, Chappell told me. She said we won’t know how much impact that will have for two years because of a lag in cancer statistics. Colorectal cancer is one of the four most common cancers in West Virginia, along with breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men and lung cancer.
COVID-19 has also had a direct impact on fundraising efforts by the American Cancer Society. You’re probably familiar with Relay for Life, the organization’s signature fundraising event. The Charleston Relay for Life event is typically held each year in May or June.
This year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit agency had to cancel in-person Relay for Life events across the country. As I’ve written, cancer patients, like others with underlying health issues, are particularly at risk for complications from COVID-19, so it makes sense that the ACS wouldn’t want to host these events that might put the people they help at risk. So the fundraisers have been moved online for this year. I’ve signed up to help raise money for the organization. Donors can contribute through October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The nonprofit organization supports cancer research and also offers patient services through a 24-hour cancer information hotline for patients and caregivers. In cities with large cancer treatment centers, it offers patients a place to stay with its Hope Lodges. The organization also has lobbyists who advocate for cancer prevention and access to care at the state and federal levels.
You can help me reach my goal of $2,500 by donating here:

Column: Reeling from a haircut

It’s been a week since my hairdresser buzzed my hair off and I still get startled sometimes when I catch my reflection in the mirror.
I had been dreading cutting off my hair for obvious reasons, but my hairdresser (shout out to Jim at Spa Bliss in Charleston) made it fun. He cut my hair first into a mullet before buzzing the rest of it off. I thought I would be crying, but we ended up laughing a lot.
I’ve been wearing baseball caps: a light pink one with the words “girls support girls,” and a gray one with some fitness company’s logo on it. The former was a gift from my sweet co-workers, the latter was a freebie my boyfriend passed along to me.
The head scarves I ordered on Amazon are all in a drawer in my bathroom. I’ve watched a lot of Youtube videos about how to tie them, but I still don’t do it well enough to feel comfortable wearing one while I’m out in public.
Without hair, I look something like a Buddhist monk. My family had a more generous description, comparing me to Demi Moore in “GI Jane.” Frankly, I don’t see it.
I don’t like not having any hair. I don’t like the feel of the tiny hairs as I run my fingers over my head. I don’t like the way my head gets cold sometimes. I definitely do not like the way I look.
I know this is the second column I’m devoting to losing my hair. It may seem trivial to focus on my appearance while I’m facing a life-threatening disease, but breast cancer has such a profound impact on a woman’s body image and appearance that I think it bears repeating.
I’ve been fortunate, so far, that when the surgeon removed my tumor, he left my body looking mostly the same. There’s only a three-inch scar. Some women have one or both breasts removed completely and reconstructed. I know that down the road, should the cancer return, that could be my fate, too.
I’ve ordered a dark, wavy wig. Spa Bliss used a sample of my hair to order a wig in my own hair color.
I’ve never been one to dye my hair bright colors, but I’m going to use the opportunity to play with wig colors and styles. Why not? This is a good time to try out new things.
Besides the haircut, something else that was new happened to me. For the first time, I felt sick from the chemo. Not really sick, but I had enough nausea to have a bad afternoon. I was scared that nausea was going to be my new normal, that I’d never feel well again until after treatment.
With some medication and some rest, though, I’m feeling much better and I’m grateful.
Until then, I didn’t really know what I was up against facing cancer and cancer treatment. Writing about my experience here and on my blog has been a way of processing it for me. People keep telling me that what I’m doing is brave and inspiring, but I don’t see it that way. Writing has been a way for me to remain detached from it, to respond to it like the reporter I am at heart.
But last week when I felt sick, cancer felt so big. Writing felt like a silly and ineffective way of trying to contain it.
I’m going to keep at it, though. I can only hope that someone will get as much out of reading this as I get out of writing it. I still feel like my readers are indulging me. Thank you for that.