NJ cancer treatments interrupted by COVID-19 pandemic
In the novel coronavirus crisis, New Jersey residents with cancer have been faced with a choice: Whether to risk exposure to a sometimes-deadly virus that poses particular risks for those already dealing with serious illness, and continue the treatments they hope will push their cancer back — or to put treatments off, and increase the risk a cancer will progress.
That's if treatments are available at all, under an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy that bars any procedures deemed "elective" to keep hospital beds free for coronavirus patients.
More than half (51%) of cancer patients and survivors participating in an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Survivor Views poll reported some impact on their care due to the current concentration of medical resources on COVID-19.
Sam DeAlmeida, ACS CAN New Jersey government relations director, said there is not yet a Garden State-specific survey, but it may come soon, as these particular responses were tallied early in the nationwide quarantine process — and the crisis has only intensified since then.
"New Jersey cancer patients tend to really rely heavily on their physicians and their nurses," DeAlmeida said, adding that this makes their current dilemma all the more difficult: "Do I go into a facility and risk getting COVID-19 to get my chemotherapy?"
That is, if the facility is even willing to provide such a necessary service at this time. Of the survey's respondents still in active care, more than a quarter (27%) have reported a delay, and 13% say they do not know when their appointments will be rescheduled.
Reduced or lost work is another factor; 38% of patients said the coronavirus has had an effect on their ability to even afford what they desperately need.
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Cancer screenings including mammograms are on hold at the moment, DeAlmeida said. But she said exceptions are being made, and if you feel a lump or notice some other sort of irregularity, don't hesitate to call your doctor.
One-third of all patients in the Survivor Views survey, and 40% in active treatment, say they are worried that COVID-19 may yet impact their ability to get care. New Jersey's peak, along with a flattening of the infection curve, is due to come earlier than other states around the country, so there is some cautious hope that regular cancer treatments can resume soon here.
"We're on our way, and the silver lining is that we may be able to reach some type of normalcy in the next, hopefully, month or so," DeAlmeida said. "The faster that we can get back to providing care and getting those that are the most vulnerable the treatment that they need is very important."
DeAlmeida said the American Cancer Society's helpline is available 24/7 at 800-227-2345.