In a way, writing is the most important part of my day job. That may sound odd to people who know me, given that I went to medical school and became a pathologist. For those not terribly familiar with my field of medicine, I’m the guy who looks at tissue under the microscope and writes reports about what disease processes I see or (just as importantly) do not see. All day, I compose legal documents, i.e., pathology reports, that go into people’s medical records. Writing a succinct, informative, and well-thought-out pathology report is truly an art form. The report tells a story of what I see under the scope, and it obviously has broad implications for the patient I’m helping. Mine is a very fulfilling job. I love it, to be completely honest.
With each patient’s tissue, I subconsciously ask myself hundreds of silent questions as I sit at my microscope. But above all, there is one question that I deliberately and consciously must ask myself, every time, regardless of the particular situation: Is this cancer?
Unfortunately, sometimes the answer is yes. And when I put those words in the patient’s report, his or her life is changed forever. Some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or biologically targeted agents lies ahead for most people, not to mention the follow-up appointments to check and make sure the disease isn’t recurring or spreading. It’s a daunting, scary process. People who face cancer, regardless of the specific type, are certainly brave for doing so.
The most important step in a cancer patient’s journey isn’t my report, or the surgeon’s hands, or the oncologist’s therapies. No, the most important step in the process is the one that starts the ball rolling: a patient schedules a doctor’s appointment. None of that is possible if patients don’t show up and share their concerns with their physician. Last year, as soon as I realized that we were headed for a lockdown in this country, I became very worried. My main concern was that people would be so afraid of catching COVID-19 that they would neglect all other aspects of their health, including cancer screenings. With the media-induced panic that gripped the nation back then, who could blame them? I truly wish my concerns from those early days of COVID-19 had been proven wrong, but as “15 days to slow the spread” turned into a year of caged hell for millions of Americans (particularly in “blue” states), my fear about undiagnosed cancer is becoming reality.
The data has been pouring in recently, and it is truly concerning. Researchers at the University of Kansas Cancer Center reported last month that for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer, “There remained an estimated screening deficit of 9.4 million associated with the COVID-19 pandemic for the US population.” Yikes. That’s a huge number of missed screenings. And keep in mind, that estimate only covers cancers of those specific organs. What about lung cancer, a huge cause of mortality in this country? What about skin cancer, including the ominous melanoma? No one knows how high the number of missed cancer screenings in the U.S. actually is, but these numbers are very troubling to say the least.
Even more concerning is recent data from across the pond. The European Cancer Organisation recently shared findings that are truly mind-boggling. From their website:
I can barely wrap my mind around those numbers — and no, they are not a misprint. They truly believe that 100 million cancer screenings fell through the cracks! It’s absurd, and it makes me angry. How could this happen? Millions of people across the world are living with undetected cancer who, sans COVID-19 policies, would not be. What a particularly terrible price to pay for government overreach. Perhaps instead of scaring everyone into cages, Dr. Fauci and other celebrated bureaucrats across the globe should have advised a more sensible approach to COVID policy. It truly angers me how badly this whole situation was botched.
Consider this scenario, which has played out untold thousands of times across the world: a middle-aged, seemingly healthy lady missed her mammogram last year. Maybe it got canceled by her hospital. Maybe she was too scared to go in for it. Her fear was completely understandable. She spent months upon months having a fallacy beat into her head: even though her risk of death from COVID-19 was well under 1 percent, she needed to act like it was 100 percent. Nothing was more important than staying free from SARS-CoV-2, not even her early stage 1 breast cancer that had started to grow, unbeknownst to her. She lost valuable time this past year, because the sooner a cancer is diagnosed, the more successfully it can be treated. Stories just like this are happening throughout the world today.
I’m incredibly frustrated with some of our celebrity doctors like Fauci and the rest, who convinced the country that COVID-19 was the only thing that mattered. Apparently, it was more important than employment, mental health, and our children’s education. Oh yeah, and now you can add festering cancers to that list. The media fear-porn machine couldn’t get enough of Dr. Fauci and his proclamations. They were all too happy to ignore physicians who advocated for a more moderate approach, physicians who have been voicing those views since day one. Many media figures and lifelong bureaucrats were complicit in encouraging governments to wield unlimited power over people’s lives. And look at the results. Millions of patients will be heartbroken when they eventually learn that COVID-19 indirectly delayed their diagnosis of cancer. The delay in care will almost certainly have a negative impact on the course of their disease. It’s a tragedy.
I never meet my patients in person. I only meet their cancers in my lab. I recognize these bad actors, and, with carefully crafted words, I break the bad news with my reports. The patients’ lives will never be the same. The enormity and gross malfeasance of this situation, where an out-of-proportion, state-sponsored fear campaign has led to a delay in millions of cancer diagnoses, is not lost on me. I’m frustrated by it. And I’m heartbroken, too, much more than my carefully worded reports could ever really convey.
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