Living through the COVID-19 outbreak as a cancer patient

From ABC/Australia:

It has been a strange feeling hearing my possible death openly labelled inconsequential by public figures, commentators and even by some of my friends.

Some remark that coronavirus has “only a 1-4 per cent” fatality rate, while others implore that everyone relax because “most people will only get mild symptoms”.

While these statements are broadly correct, there’s a callous confidence that comes with knowing you’re part of the 96 per cent who will survive an infection — instead of being among the potential “four-percenters” who might not.

Of course their comments are not aimed directly at us, but I cannot help wondering whether they know we’re listening.

Last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I had it removed and am now enduring four months of chemotherapy to keep me cancer-free.

I’m seven weeks into my treatment and every time I receive a dose of the cancer-killing stuff, it also knocks out part of my immune system.

Last week, I picked up a viral throat infection from one of my kids and ended up at Sydney’s St Vincent’s emergency department after the symptoms escalated worryingly. It was a real wake-up call.

If I’m to fight off a viral infection, it is my lymphocytes I’ll be relying on.

The normal range for a healthy person is a count between 1.5 and 4. When my blood was tested by the emergency department halfway through my third chemo cycle, it showed my lymphocyte count had dropped to 0.6.

A reading that low does not mean I have no immune system to rely on, but it does leave me genuinely concerned that if I contract COVID-19 I might not be among the group who experience only mild symptoms.

I’m expecting to fully recover from my underlying health condition, but if I contract coronavirus at the height of this outbreak, can I be sure in a contest between myself and another patient I will hold the winning ticket?

Of course, I’d rather not find out, for their sake as well as mine.

So on behalf of all the potential four-percenters out there, I beg that people be vigilant and take the virus seriously, not because we are all potential fatalities, but because among us there are people whose best chance of surviving the outbreak is if its spread is slowed so our health system can adequately treat everyone in need.

Story source: ABC/Australia.

Featured image credit: Hugh Riminton via ABC/Australia.

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