Cancer patients' access to treatment affected by coronavirus

Posted at 7:11 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 20:11:25-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — People across the world are facing the effects of the coronavirus in some way but the pandemic is causing serious concerns for cancer patients.

Limits to non-emergency medical treatments and financial hardships are placing those in the fight against cancer in a tougher position than normal.

“My fear is that I wouldn’t be able to fight it back and I would be one of those people on the respirators so if you’re not worried about yourself worry about other people going through cancer treatments, worry about your grandparents, worry about other people who are immune compromised, do it for them,” said Audrey Graves, a Nebraska City resident who is currently battling Stage Four metastatic breast cancer.

Graves was first diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago at age 29. After going through surgeries and chemotherapy they thought it went into remission but it came back 14 years later.

However, in December 2018, blood work was done and found her tumor markers were high. In July 2019, the tumor markers were still high and she learned the cancer metastasized to her bones.

“It was devastating,” Graves said. “You think everything is fine and you’re in the clear and in the course of one blood test everything changes. You go through your head what is going to happen.”

Since August, Graves has been going in to her doctor for monthly injections and bloodwork. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, her scans have been delayed that sees how the treatment is going.

“Are scan necessary, they are,” Graves said. “It shows me if the cancer is spreading or shrinking and they can only show me the bloodwork for now.”

Graves is not the only cancer patient facing similar issues. A survey done by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network found 51-percent of cancer patients reported some impact on their care due to the virus and 27-percent of those in active treatment reported a delay in care. The survey also found nearly 40-percent of cancer patients said the coronavirus has impacted their financial situation and their ability to pay for care.

“We’re interested in taking it even further to ensure relief can be provided to those cancer patients and their families, not only financially but in the way of increasing their access to the treatments that they definitely need right now," said Nick Faustman, the Nebraska government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Faustman said his organization is working to make sure cancer patients are looked out for.

“They are not alone,” Faustman said. “Cancer hasn’t stopped and we are not stopping either. We are right there with them and we’re doing everything we can to help them get through this very difficult time.”

Faustman said his organization is working with the healthcare community to make sure that delays are minimal and is working with policy makers in Washington D.C. on stimulus packages that will help out cancer patients. As well he said the organization has reached out to roughly 120 non-profits regarding potential changes to future stimulus packages to see how they can take care of cancer patients and their families.

“We want to make sure patients feel comfortable coming to the clinics or hospital systems to get their treatments and that they’re not alone during these trying times,” Faustman said.

For Graves, she has been working from home since March 16. However, she doesn’t plan on letting the coronavirus pandemic interfere with her fight against cancer.

“Where I am in two years, five years, ten we don’t know,” Graves said. “We’re taking it day by day.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has a hot-line patients can call to get information on payments, prescriptions, coverage and other issues they’re facing. The number is 1-800-227-2347.

Watch reporter Phil Bergman’s story in the above video.

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