Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on April 10, 2020

April 10, 2020

From legendary singer-songwriter John Prine passing away due to coronavirus complications to one patient’s doctor seeing her through her scan when her family couldn’t be there due to COVID-19 restrictions, here’s what is making the headlines in the cancer space this week.

Legendary singer-songwriter, and two-time cancer survivor, John Prine passed away due to coronavirus complications.

Prine, 73, is best known for his work in the 1970s as a singer songwriter that was a successor to Bob Dylan’s folk lyrics. Dylan himself said Prine was one of his favorite songwriters. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” he said in an interview. “Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”

In 1988, Prine had surgery to remove a tumor in his neck that had damaged his vocal cords and in 2013 had part of one lung removed to treat lung cancer. He had been hospitalized since last month.

Dr. Rachel Brem, a breast cancer physician and breast cancer survivor, has survived COVID-19.

Brem, 61, director of breast imaging and intervention at George Washington University Hospital, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 and subsequently underwent chemotherapy. In March, Brem started experiencing symptoms of the virus including shaking, chills, intense muscle pain, gastrointestinal distress and a complete lack of a sense of smell.

"Although I've had flu before, surgery before, I've had chemotherapy — I've never experienced anything quite like this," Brem said in an interview. Dr. Brem is the founder of the Brem Foundation that advocates for early detection and education for cancer but is now focusing her organization’s resources in the fight against COVID-19.

The Patient Assistance Network Foundation (PAN) has announced the launch of their COVID-19 Treatment and Prevention Fund to assist patients with cancer affected by the virus.

The PAN Foundation, an independent charitable organization that helps underinsured patients gain access to critical medical care, will be providing assistance to patients with cancer who have COVID-19 or are quarantined because of the virus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the importance of our mission to ensure that every American can afford the healthcare they need. While we don’t know the full impact of this outbreak, we’re dedicated to doing everything we can to protect and support the most vulnerable members of our society,” PAN President and CEO Daniel J. Klein said in a press release.

The grant will provide $300 to qualifying patients to help pay for treatment co-pays, prescription and over-the-counter medications, medical supplies and other important expenses related to COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

Due to restrictions at hospitals as a result of the coronavirus, a patient with breast cancer had to go through a scan without her family by her side. But she wasn’t completely alone.

Jessica Roubitchek could not postpone her scan to see if her breast cancer returned but couldn’t bring her usual family members with her. However, her doctor, Dr. Claudi Perez, a surgeon at Rush Hospital, was by her side to make sure she wasn’t alone.

“It was a small thing,” Perez said in an interview. “It was something that I thought was the right thing to do and as a human, I think all of us would do that if we could.”

Roubitchek unfortunately found out her cancer had returned but said she was still appreciative of her doctor’s gesture and feels confident about the road ahead.

“My appreciation was just, I mean, I can’t even describe how grateful I am and how grateful my family was that she did that for me,” Roubitchek said.


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