Opinion: Column: Cancer and Covid...

…don't exactly go together like milk and cookies. Rather, they go together like snow and ice. One or the other is bad enough, but together they become even worse. And unfortunately I have one, and am constantly worried/mindful of the other. Moreover, since Covid is kind of a pulmonary issue, those of us who have cancer in the lungs, where we're already compromised, need to contract a virus like this like Washington, D.C. needs a "wintry mix'' in the forecast.

In the course of my ongoing papillary thyroid cancer protocol, recently I spoke with an oncology pharmacist (who knew?). When he asked me, during our regular monthly phone call, if I was experiencing any new symptoms, I was honest and said "Yes, shortness of breath." He noted my response and subsequently completed our call, as per usual. Not 10 minutes later, he called back. He had just spoken with my oncologist, who said that I should go to Urgent Care immediately. "Excuse me? What do I tell the doctor? Will my oncologist have spoken to them/expressed his concern/coordinated my care?" "No," I was told. "Just tell them your symptoms." Having had a negative Covid test the week before Christmas, and have pretty much been at home ever since, I didn't believe I had the virus. But considering how little I know about such matters, I went with the medical flow and made an Urgent Care appointment for 2 p.m. that same day.

What I learned later that day after three hours in Urgent Care after an examination, lab work and chest X-Ray was the true reason why my oncologist wanted me not to wait for care: blood clots which could lead to a pulmonary embolism (clots moving through the bloodstream and ending up in the lungs) where they could burst, so to speak, and cause a sudden death. So the concern wasn't Covid, it was more sinister: immediate death if left unresolved. Little did I know, thankfully. Otherwise, I might have been a bit more anxious.

Luckily, my lab work was normal, my chest X-Ray was clear, and I had no corroborating symptoms: my legs weren't swollen and I had no chest pain. Nothing was mentioned about Covid. Even though that was my presumption for the urgency, apparently that was not my oncologist's concern. By 5 p.m., with no new symptoms to report, I was released on my own recognizance. If I experienced any shortness of breath, I was encouraged to call. I was prescribed an inhaler – like those used by asthmatics, with the proper medicine, and advised not to hesitate using it should the need arise. I was given approximately 30 doses, I was told.

I then went to the pharmacy to pick up my parting gift. After a 30 minute or so wait, my name was called and I went up the window to collect my goodies. Now I was free to go. Within 45 minutes I was home. No fuss, no muss, as it turned out. My follow-up appointment with my oncologist is next Tuesday (as I write this on Sunday) which also happens is my next scheduled video visit, previously scheduled to discuss the results of the previous week's CT Scan and brain/abdomen MRI which amazingly, miraculously continue to show shrinkage of the thyroid tumors located in my lungs (you know, my pre-existing comorbidity). And of course, this comorbidity is the reason I'm extremely cautious and occasionally even proactive because to not be would be incredibly stupid and irresponsible.

Now, if I could only figure out how to lock and load this inhaler, I might actually be able reduce the stress and discomfort when I become short of breath. But knowing now that my symptoms were not Covid-related, nor as I learned later that day, blood clot-oriented, I can breathe easier before, during and after I'm short of breath, if you know what I mean.

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