The CDC estimates 650,000 people in the U.S. receive chemotherapy each year. At least one of them is likely someone you love. In addition to targeting cancer cells, chemo also weakens the immune system. That’s why doctors say these patients are at risk for serious, even deadly, medical complications if they catch COVID-19.
“This is us, getting ready to go watch the Cowboys play,” Jan Talley said, holding up a photo of herself with her family.
It’s not a prescription a doctor gave her, but Talley found keeping her family close was vital for her recovery.
“I come from a large family. My sisters are great. They took me to all my treatments,” Talley said.
Two years ago, doctors diagnosed Talley with ovarian cancer. She had three months of chemotherapy, surgery, followed by more chemo.
“It’s frightening. You don’t know a lot about it. You’re being injected with drugs you don’t know a lot about,” Talley said.
This was well before the world uttered the phrase COVID-19. Talley, like so many cancer patients, had to practice what we now call social distancing to protect her weakened immune system.
I just avoided contact with people. You didn’t go out much in public,” Talley said.
Talley is still taking a chemo pill and says COVID-19 is another reason to be cautious about her health.
“The chemotherapy kills the cancer cells, but it also affects some of your own defense mechanisms is the simplest way to put it,” Dr. Luis Rojas, Avera Health, said.
Typically, the greatest impact chemo has is on white blood cells. When you don’t have enough white blood cells, your body is more vulnerable to infection.
“They have a weakened immune system. So, if they get the COVID-19 infection, they are in the higher group for severe disease, likely needing hospitalization. ICU. Intubation,” Rojas said.
That’s why doctors and scientists are begging all of us to stay home and stay away from people to help slow the spread of the virus. It’s not just for your health.
Brady Mallory: Does it frustrate you so many people out there don’t take this seriously and they are just… They’re going to public gatherings, they’re going to bars, because they think, ‘Well, if I catch it, it’s not a big deal.’ But they could be endangering you. Is that frustrating?
Talley: Yes, it’s very frustrating. People are not doing what they’re told. People die from this, and in the condition I’m in with taking chemo treatments, I’m concerned about them because they may contact me and give it to me,” Talley said.
Talley is working from home, and isolating herself from most people. It’s not ideal, but experts say it’s up to all of us to stay apart from each other is the best way to recover from COVID-19. If not for you, do it for cancer patients like Talley. Talley wants the opportunity to take many more photos with the family she loves.
“They need to take this seriously, because their health may not be jeopardized, but they may jeopardize the health of someone else,” Talley said.