Friday Frontline: Cancer News, Updates Amid COVID-19 Pandemic on April 17, 2020

April 17, 2020

From a woman with stage 4 colon cancer deciding to stream her wedding on Zoom to a patient with breast cancer sewing masks for at risk groups across the United States, here’s the cancer news and updates happening amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

One couple plans to go through with their wedding over Zoom, which has become a common occurrence amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the couple has a sense of urgency as the bride-to-be battles stage 4 colorectal cancer.

Jenessa Schwartz and Trevor Davis will be holding a small wedding with their immediate family and more than 50 guests over Zoom. They’ll be wearing blue to commemorate colon cancer awareness, the disease Schwartz has been battling since her diagnosis in 2017.

Not only will their wedding have to be virtual, but Schwartz has also had a routine PET scan to determine how her chemotherapy is doing delayed till the following month. The couple wants to make sure they’re legally married as uncertainties may set in, and want to “carpe this MF diem” as Schwartz put on her blog.

"It's going to sound trite and a little cliché, but I've cultivated this seize-the-day attitude," Schwartz said in an interview. "We decided we can't put off joy."

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered what cancer researchers and oncologists are able to do, but London’s Francis Crick Institute is repurposing their research lab to aid in testing efforts

“Researchers set up a working group to convert laboratories here into a rapid real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) screening facility for healthcare workers and patients,” said Charlie Swanton, a researcher that leads a group studying cancer evolution at the Crick institute, in an interview. “Five large laboratories here have now been repurposed. Everybody wanted to help.”

To properly assess the COVID-19 pandemic and response, widespread testing is needed on a scale that the United Kingdom, and many other countries, have not been able to match. By converting the labs once used for cancer research, researchers hope they can aid in these testing efforts to catch up with the pandemic and make sure frontline workers are not infected.

“This is a new way of working for many of our scientists and staff. What worries me most of all is their safety, particularly when handling the samples for inactivating the virus,” Swanton said. “Much of this diagnostic work is repetitive and quite boring, but the stakes are high. It’s been extraordinary to see the selflessness of scientists here to help in the bigger effort of getting doctors and nurses back to the front line.”

Six non-profit adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer advocacy groups have launched a comprehensive online resource for AYA patients with cancer on the impact of COVID-19.

CovidAYACancer.org is a way for patients to find credible online advocacy and professional resources to answer their questions as well as provide connections for a group of patients that already experience isolation as a result of their treatment. The website is a collaboration between Teen Cancer America, Stupid Cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Cancer and Careers, Lacuna Loft and CureSearch.

“The global pandemic is profoundly changing cancer care delivery,” said Dr. Craig Nichols, an internationally recognized specialist in germ cell tumors, in a press release. “We have to deliver high-quality care while stopping the virus, assuring good patient outcomes while also protecting the oncology workforce and managing capacity during high demand. It is so gratifying that the AYA oncology community is providing ‘bottom up’ innovative solutions.”

A patient with breast cancer is sewing together masks for at-risk groups and people in her community, while continuing her fight with cancer.

Ty Morganelli was first diagnosed with breast cancer last fall and has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy; she was scheduled to have surgery this month which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She’s been making masks, and now sending them around the country per requests on Facebook. Morganelli first started making masks after receiving a call early this month from her great grandniece who works in an assisted living facility.

“She asked me if I wouldn’t mind making a few (masks) for them and so I did,” Morganelli said in an interview. “It just kind of snowballed from there. I realized how many people I knew that were in at-risk groups.”

Morganelli isn’t asking for payment for the masks she makes, but the money she receives she puts toward local charities.

“I’m a cat lady, so I put it toward cat rescue. I was able to help pay medical bills for three rescue cats,” she said.


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