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Patient Stories
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Deborah Dormady Letham, PhD

Remission: Cancer Patients’ Golden Club

Reflections on why cancer treatments, screenings and life-prolonging drug development cannot stop for a pandemic

Each extra day is a gift to the family of a cancer patient. Extending opportunities to be together means more birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones for the families of those who receive what used to always be a terminal diagnosis. Cancer patients have options these days, novel therapies, and HOPE.

This being my company’s Oncology Awareness month, I have been thinking a lot about my friends who are fighting cancer and multiple family members, including my Dad and my Aunt Mary, who both fought cancer and passed away this past year. And I have been very inspired by my local friend Agnes who is about to receive her LAST cancer outpatient treatment and is joining that golden club known as “in remission”. It was tough for Agnes to double deal with the precautions against catching COVID-19 as well as cancer and her decision to continue treatment during the global pandemic, Year One, came with many family discussions and prayers. Now in Pandemic Year Two she is receiving her last treatment. Success. She stayed the course and is grateful.

I'm very glad that my friend Agnes got up the guts, the wherewithal, and the wits to CONTINUE her CANCER TREATMENTS and NOT do the “COVID Skip” like some patients may have. Maybe you, like me, have done the “COVID Skip” and held off visiting a doctor or getting a mammogram, PSA test, colonoscopy or skin cancer screening. As I now recommit myself to getting my screenings, I have scheduled my physical, been back to the dentist (twice), dermatologist for skin cancer screenings and visited a new OB/GYN. So far so good with a few more to go. When I called my eye doctor recently to arrange long overdue appointments for my son and myself, the receptionist actually remarked to her coworkers as she was hanging up the phone: "I got both of them! I got both of them into an appointment!!!!" (with many exclamation points to reflect the glee in her voice).

September is a good time to be grateful for the scientists who develop and safety test—even during this awful pandemic—life-extending medications that my family members and friends are using to fight against their cancers. Our work at Charles River in helping pharmaceutical clients get cancer medications to market is so very important. Our workers have come to work or worked virtually since the pandemic began. They did not do any “COVID Skip.” They continued to safety test drugs.

Nor was this the first time biomedical researchers worked through a medical disaster. It probably won’t be the last, either. Agnes remembers working through the polio epidemic. It was 1953, and she had taken a position with a company involved in producing one of the novel polio vaccines just approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Agnes recalls turning on the television every night and seeing the rows of young polio victims lying in iron lungs. “Parents were very fearful that their children would be added to that awful scene,” she said.

Agnes was able to assure her family that hope was coming and connect her nieces and nephews to receive the vaccine once it went through the safety testing and clinical trials. What a joy for her to see the relief in her family’s faces. And now those same family members (and many of us, Agnes’s friends) have relief and joy in seeing Agnes beat back her cancer. Maybe she will be up for kayaking before the year is out. Agnes won’t let anyone tell her that 80-year-olds don’t have a lot of living left to do – she surely does!

More gifted days for families means more grandbabies being hugged by grandparents, more joy in spending time with your family, more hope in extended lives made better by both preventative screenings for pre-cancer as well as treatments for cancers.

This year at work, as we honor and memorialize family members and friends, let us find some hope as we fill out maybe more “honor” cards for those fighting cancer than we fill out “memorial” cards for those who have lost their battle. When we make care packages of comfort gifts, let us include some encouraging notes as a support to the patients. And when we come to work, pandemic or no pandemic, let us remember that WE DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Keep sharing HOPE.