Cancer During COVID-19

By: Drake Belanger Polak and Colin O’dwyer

617 people in Canada get diagnosed with cancer every day in Canada. If you or someone close to you suspected they had cancer or were diagnosed, you would want them to have the most support possible. You would want them to be in immediate touch with a doctor, placed in the best room in the hospital. You would want their family to be there with them. Unfortunately, COVID-19 makes support for cancer patients nearly impossible.

 Chemotherapy, a common treatment for cancer, weakens the immune system and increases the chance and severity of COVID-19. Hospitals in desperation have created a priority list as they are forced to deal with COVID-19 before cancer. Doctors can no longer physically meet to talk with patients. Janice Ense never got to talk to her doctor about her results; instead, only an electronic message was left. Life altering news isn’t even coming from a human, but a robot. Even worse, she can no longer receive surgery on her tumour. The tumour has been growing since last year and she fears that it will spread to other parts of her body. Altogether, hospitals across the country are postponing all elective cardiac procedures, resulting in a 50-75% reduction of bypass, stent and other operations. Sadly, even if it is life threatening, emergency departments are presently seeing significantly reduced patient volumes. If it’s an emergency you are allowed to go to the hospital, but new restrictions and fear of COVID-19 have been scaring away patients.

Even if you are fortunate enough to be treated in a hospital, it is unlikely you can be visited by friends and family. Exceptions only occur when the patient has a life threatening situation, a serious emergency surgery, or requires an essential caregiver. If a patient is soon to be passing, after screening, a health care team will permit one family member to visit per day. We all want to be there for our loved ones, especially when they are about to pass, so it’s heartbreaking for COVID-19 to strip that away from many people.

Research for future cancer treatments has been halted with the rapid need for a COVID-19 vaccination. Research staff and resources have been reassigned to manage the influx of patients at many academic institutions and participating hospitals, and routine clinical research activities have been suspended. Research appointments, vital for data certification have been postponed as well.

But what can we do? Firstly, if you haven’t already, reach out to those you know who are currently affected by cancer. Without check ups, patients feel even more isolated, and your call will mean a lot. Secondly, fundraisers have been started to fund programs which aim to reduce some of these problems. For example, Canadian Cancer Society will be donating to funds like a virtual Camp Goodtimes to connect kids with cancer to each other and have fun. A large fundraiser happening soon, virtual Relay For Life, will help combat these problems for cancer patients throughout Canada. UCC will be creating Relay Teams for the event and for more information, please reach out to Drake Belanger-Polak or Colin O’Dwyer (as well as the UCCRelayforLife instagram page If you cannot donate money, please donate your time to those around you who need your support.

Remember, even in these dire times, the human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.