Today’s Voice of Kidney Cancer is not one story, but many stories. We all are struggling with how our individual lives have changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools have closed, travel bans are in place, the uncertainty is wreaking havoc on the world economy. Today we profile three families who are uniquely impacted by the outbreak due to immunosuppression.
Mary’s husband Rick was diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer in 2018. Thankfully he was able to get great care from Dr. Chuck Drake at Columbia Cancer Center in New York. Enrolled in a promising clinical trial, Rick responded well to immunotherapy. But like many people who respond well to these treatments, Rick also suffered adverse events. As a result, he now needs to take steroids to suppress his immune system. What does that mean? It means that Rick is at much higher risk of getting COVID-19 and suffering severe complications.
Betsy was eight months pregnant with their third child when her husband Kevin was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In addition to having surgery to remove the tumor, Kevin enrolled in a perioperative immunotherapy clinical trial to hopefully prevent recurrent cancer. While it’s rare, Kevin had an extreme reaction to the infusion. He suffered immune related attacks to multiple organs with permanent damage to his thyroid and adrenal glands. Like Rick, Kevin is one of the millions of Americans who are immunosuppressed.
Lisa’s husband Chester was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year. Their daughter was just three years old and their lives were turned upside down. Halfway through an immunotherapy trial, Chester developed a common side effect, an itchy rash. While most people respond quickly to steroids, Chester’s rash has persisted. He hasn’t been able to go off of steroids yet, which means he is at higher risk of getting sick.
We all are being impacted by COVID-19 – but some situations are more critical than others. In addition to Rick, Kevin and Chester, there are patients in skilled nursing facilities who are separated from their spouses, unable to have visitors due to quarantines. There are patients who have had their surgeries delayed as the surge of COVID-19 places increasing pressure on our health care system. Patients who were set to enroll in clinical trials are now facing delays, unable to start therapy. And of course, there is increased anxiety in families who are already struggling with the anxiety associated with their cancer diagnosis.
As we all work to stop the spread of the virus, please keep these families, and the many like them in your thoughts.
Not all kidney cancer patients are immunosuppressed. Contact your doctor to know about your individual risks.