Cancer and corona

Warning this blog discusses secondary/metastatic/stage 4 breast cancer and the impact of living with a compromised immune system during the corona virus outbreak. In other words it isn’t a laugh a minute.

I’m 35 years old and I have incurable but currently treatable secondary breast cancer. I’m going to die of breast cancer in my 30s – or am I? The world is facing a probable pandemic of corona virus and as the news keeps reminding us, people like me with a compromised immune system are at most risk of complications and death. So maybe cancer won’t “beat” me after all. Whoo good times! But I shouldn’t be sad as healthy people are likely to survive and only feel ill for a few days. What a relief for them!

Despite that people are understandably terrified about corona virus. Believe me I understand. This virus outbreak is scary. Nobody deserves or wants to be ill. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fuming at people panic buying boxes of soap, hand sanitizer and paracetamol. I’m furious at them. I’m currently sitting at home in pain. Pain that could be controlled by paracetamol. But I’m not taking paracetamol today. I’ve only got a few left and I’ve been unable to find any more for 3 days. I could take oxycodone but I prefer to save those for severe pain as they make me feel sleepy. I just want to be in less pain and able to function. I have a great life despite having stage 4 breast cancer. I work full time, watch my beloved AFCRD play football and have lots of hobbies like going for walks. The humble paracetamol helps me to do that. But I’m running out and that scares me.

I make extensive use of hand sanitizer. Not to fight corona virus, but to fight back against bacteria and germs that could lead to me getting an infection and dying. I wash my hands constantly, but hand sanitizer is an invaluable source of reassurance and comfort. It means when someone leaves the ladies without washing their hands I can use the sanitizer after touching the door. I can use it after shaking hands or receiving change in the shop. It might do nothing to keep me safe for all I know, but it gives me the confidence to live what is left of my life to the fullest and stay #BusyLivingWithMets. But like so many other disabled and immuno compromised people I can’t get any and I’m running out. It might seem like a minor issue, but it’s another source of stress that cancer patients like me don’t need. We want to live and live well. We want to live long enough to die of breast cancer. As for the “people” stealing hand sanitizer from hospitals – I have no words to describe what I think of them. I truly believe that society can legitimately be judged by how it treats the most vulnerable in society. Well I’m feeling a bit judgemental towards some people right now.

But hand sanitizer, paracetamol and even the threat of death from corona virus isn’t what is messing with my head right now. What is breaking me is anger about how it shows that society could help secondary breast cancer patients so much more. But they aren’t and that hurts. So far 3 British people have died of corona and that is of course heartbreaking. Those people didn’t deserve to die. A eulogy to a victim in his 80s is the leading article on the BBC news app. The leading article. It makes me want to scream. 31 British women a day die of breast cancer. 31 of us died today. 31 will die tomorrow. Our deaths are invisible though. Where are our headlines and eulogies? The women and men being slaughtered by cancer are wonderful people too, but we are ignored unless we are celebrities. Imagine if we had a fraction of the headlines, resources and attention. I am imagining it and it makes me cry about what might be.

Billions of pounds are being spent across the world right now on dealing with corona. Research is being massively funded. That’s a great thing. As noted above this is a terrifying virus outbreak. Governments need to do everything to stop it. But why can they do everything for corona and so little for cancer? Our government won’t even implement the moderate recommendations on drug access by our own wonderful Institute of Cancer Research. Those recommendations could save and extend the lives of cancer patients aged 0-100+. We matter too. Don’t we?

To finish up this blog let me make it clear that I support efforts to counter this virus. I understand that people are terrified – I’m one of them. I agree people should do what they can to protect their families. I just can’t help comparing the reaction to corona to the reactions to cancer. Because if you want to talk about a global health emergency, you have to discuss cancer.

31 British people a day are killed by breast cancer alone. That’s more than one an hour. That’s 217 a week dying. We’re in a state of panic buying and emergency legislation for a virus killing approximately 3-5% of victims. Do you know what percentage of people like me with secondary breast cancer die? 100%