Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on May 8, 2020

May 8, 2020

From a 105-year-old cancer survivor recovering from COVID-19 to a 7-year-old finishing his last chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma and also beating COVID-19, here’s what’s making the headlines in the cancer landscape this week.

Marie Ferise is a cancer survivor and tested positive for COVID-19 three weeks ago, she’s now recovering. Ferise is 105 years old.

“I was nervous,” said Lori Donkersloot, Ferise’s nurse at the Homestead Health Care Center in New Jersey in an interview. “She is the eldest resident we have here. We all were quite worried about her.”

Ferise’s family was worried for her as they couldn’t be with her and that older immunocompromised patients are at a much higher risk for the worst of COVID-19’s symptoms. But after three weeks she’s getting ready for Mother’s Day and her 106th birthday on June 3rd.

The sale of Temple University’s Fox Chase Cancer Center to the Thomas Jefferson University has been called off, due to finical pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic according to the non-profits.

The price of this sale was not disclosed but Temple has said that it is now losing $40 million a month due to the pandemic. The university of Pennsylvania Health System has said that it expects to lose $450 million through June. The loss of this revenue is due to health systems not being able to conduct surgeries and other elective non-urgent care as they are overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and do not want to risk spreading infection.

“This transaction is the latest casualty of COVID-19,” said Stephen K. Klasko, president of Thomas Jefferson University, in a statement. “Because of the tremendous impact that the virus has had on our operations, Jefferson must focus entirely on providing patient care and safety, student education and safety, and for the well-being of our dedicated employees."

As routine preventive cancer screening rates are plummeting while these procedures are put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are worried on missing out on catching these signs of cancers before it’s too late.

“On a global scale, it’s a lot of screening procedures being deferred — and maybe some cancers that could develop in this time, as well,” said Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist in Philadelphia, in an interview.

According to Epic, an electronic medical records company that looked at 2.7 million patient records across the US, in March alone the number of screening appointments decreased by 86-94% compared to the previous year. And while some states have authorized hospitals to resume postponed procedures like screenings, coronavirus infections are still a concern.

Experts are also worried that patients will not want to commit to screenings due to their own infection fears and potential strain on physicians as other patients rush back from delayed screenings. However, advocates like Mackenzie Alleman, who had a preventative double mastectomy after discovering she had a BRCA1 gene mutation, are telling patients to keep their screenings as routine as possible and not to push them off.

“Just from the messaging alone that these can be delayed, it gives people one more reason to put these things off,” she said.

Gavin Brennan was able to celebrate more than just his 7th birthday this week as he returned home for the first time in weeks after completing his last chemotherapy treatment and beating COVID-19.

In January of this year, Brennan was diagnosed with lymphoma and immediately began chemotherapy treatment as the COVID-19 pandemic first began to sweep the globe. In March, Brennan came down with a fever and his father took him to the ER out of caution. At the time, COVID-19 tests were not common, but the family insisted. Brennan tested positive.

At the time, Brennan was mostly asymptomatic, so he was sent home. After a few weeks he came down with pneumonia and tested positive for COVID-19 again. Through it all, he remained resilient and was the rock for his parents to get throughout this, according to Gavin’s father.

“If we could survive this, we can survive anything," his mom, April Brennan, said in an interview. “It’s been a beautiful, crazy, surreal, dream, nightmare.” As Brennan headed home, he and his family were treated to a parade of first responders, friends and family in their hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts, to celebrate Gavin’s long journey back.


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