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Battling breast cancer during the pandemic

Posted at 3:11 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 17:12:20-04

BILLINGS - The strength of cancer patients is being put to the test during the pandemic.

While no one should have to face it alone, COVID-19 is forcing just that during chemotherapy and doctor appointments.

“One of the things that cancer patients depend on, is the strength of other people. Family members, close friends. And when those family members and close friends can’t be there in the room when they’re talking to me or talking to one of the other physicians, it makes for a real challenge,” said Dr. Patrick Cobb, an oncologist for St. Vincent Healthcare.

In a time when almost everything has gone virtual, doctors are also allowing the same during what could be the most important appointments of a cancer patient’s life by including family and friends via video or conference calls.

“To try to keep that connection with the family and their caregivers. It’s been a challenge but it’s something that we have to do in the coronavirus pandemic environment,” said Cobb.

Another challenge from the pandemic environment is catching the virus and its threat to cancer patients.

“I think one of the things cancer patients have to understand is that, even though we’re in this COVID environment, that the majority of patients with cancer if they get COVID they’re still going to survive this,” Cobb said.

According to Cobb, the University of Washington examined 20,000 cancer patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Their fatality rate was 15 percent, compared to the 3-or-4 percent of the overall population.

“So it’s markedly higher than it is for people who don’t have cancer, but 85% of people with cancer who get COVID will survive the disease,” he said.

Attending appointments solo, and the constant threat of COVID, have positioned medical workers to reach a new level of compassion in care.

“We’re trying to be more empathetic, trying to be that sounding board, that ordinarily, they would have other people give them,” said Cobb.