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Cancer and the COVID-19 pandemic: A Catch 22 situation?

Cancer. A devastating pandemic accounting for around 13% of deaths (7 million) globally. 16 million new cancer cases being detected each year. Its treatment invariably damages the body’s immune system. It could be surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a bone marrow transplant; each modality increasingly detrimental to our body’s immunity, and therefore our body’s ability to fight off infection. If a patient with cancer is infected with the novel coronavirus, their chances of death are around 3.5-6%. Add to this the psychological trauma a person must endure to get through it all. This may all sound rather devastating, but there’s more.

 

 

Throw into this miserable concoction a pinch of another pandemic of questionable curability (read COVID-19), and there you have it. A recipe fit to satiate the apparently ravenous appetites of the Gods of Pandemonium and Suffering. The universe appears to have designed these diseases to kill. But is there an escape, or are we stuck between the devil and the deep sea?

Out of this mire of pessimism arises a waft of positivity, a breath of reassuring fresh air. This is the gush of the goodness of the human essence. The ability of Homo sapiens to come together, to forget differences and to fight. To survive. To overcome. Dear fellow humans, nothing is beyond the power of our collective determination to thrive amidst adversity. We have done it before and we will do it again. And again.

We, as oncologists, are ready to guide and counsel our cancer patients regarding the best possible way forward. Whether one is newly detected, currently undergoing treatment, or a previously treated patient, there is a viable solution. It may be a tightrope walk but, more often than not, there is a way to balance our way out. So, hold your heads high my friends. Neither cancer nor viruses (or a potential combination of the two) can sink our eternal spirit.