Friday Frontline: Actress Dame Dianna Rigg Dies of Lung Cancer, Video of Health Insurance Dispute Between a Cancer Survivor and Senate Staffer Goes Viral, and More

September 11, 2020

From the passing of famed Game of Thrones actress Dame Dianna Rigg after a lung cancer diagnosis to the recording of a confrontational call between a three-time cancer survivor and her senator’s staffer, here’s what’s happening in the cancer headlines this week.

Actress Dame Dianna Rigg, best known for her roles in “The Avengers” and “Game of Thrones”, passed away from lung cancer on Thursday at age 82.

Rigg was diagnosed with lung cancer in March of this year, according to her daughter Rachel Stirling. Rigg was a celebrated actress whose career spans decades, from the hit 1960’s show “The Avengers”, where she played super spy Emma Peel, to multiple award-winning roles in West End and Broadway plays. In 1994 she was given the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, an honor for the United Kingdom’s most recognized citizens.

"She spent her last months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love, laughter and a deep pride in her profession," her daughter said. Many other actors and directors took to social media to remember her, citing her generosity, ability to have fun no matter the situation on set, and her sweeping talent.

As firefighters in Northern California work to contain historic wildfires, researchers are showing connections between the toxins they inhale and cancer.

Early research suggests that firefighters who fight wildland fire inhale a mix of chemical toxicants and heavy metals at higher levels than the average US population, and that this is a red flag for firefighters confronting a historic wildfire season potentially developing cancer later in life. This is also complicated by the fact that firefighters who fight wildland fires do not have the same protections as traditional firefighters due to their need for mobility.

"We were starting to see a lot of members with those coughs, headaches," said San Francisco firefighter Captain Matt Alba in an interview. "I couldn't help but think about 9/11 and what all of those responders went through 10 years after the incident."

T-cells created to fight the coronavirus may have potential to fight cancer, according to researchers.

T-cells are the cells the immune system creates in order to fight specific diseases. In the case of the coronavirus, the body creates CD8+ T-cells which are known to be effective at killing malignant cells without harming other cells, and is the basis of studies for immunotherapies. With the potential of millions of people getting a vaccine that would create these cells, researchers want to see if they can be repurposed to fight cancer.

While this specific cell is not an exact match to antitumor cells, researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, are confident they can repurpose them. Moreover, there is evidence that the flu vaccine can trigger an immune response to fight cancer and researchers hope to build on this similar vaccine pathway.

Three-time cancer survivor Bev Veals reached out to her senator for help with an insurance dilemma, and received an insensitive response that went viral.

Bev Veals, a native to North Carolina, has beaten cancer three times over the past 20 years, but this March her husband was furloughed due to the coronavirus and was worried about losing her health insurance. Given issues with her insurance in the past, Veals reached out to her senator, Thom Tillis. Veals grew frustrated with the staffer’s lack of empathy so she began recording the call.

When Veals asked what she should do if she shouldn’t get healthcare because she can’t afford it, the staffer replied, "If I want to go to the store and buy a new dress shirt, if I can’t afford that dress shirt, I don’t get to get it."

"To compare it to a dress shirt made me incredibly angry and hurt," Veals told interviewers. The video went viral when it was posted online and when local media sent the video to Tillis office the senator’s spokesman replied with a statement condemning the way the staffer spoke with Veals.

“We need our legislators to listen to us and help us solve this problem because it’s not just my problem – not being able to afford health care," Veals said in response to the apology. "It’s the problem of hundreds and thousands of North Carolinians."


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