Robert Lawrie is a board chair of the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS); Philippe Couillard is a medical doctor and the former premier of Quebec; and Bob Bell is the former deputy minister of health in Ontario. All three are directors of the CCS.
Canada’s health care system is working at full capacity to fight COVID-19. But the more than one million Canadians living with cancer face an extra challenge: During this pandemic, they’re also being told their treatment – tests, radiation, chemo and surgery – may be substantially altered or delayed. And patients living with cancer might be more vulnerable to COVID-19. The health care system they rely on is now being forced to delay care, community support organizations for cancer are overwhelmed, and the emotional support of family and friends is restricted to a two-metre exclusion zone.
What will the long-term effects of COVID-19 be for cancer patients? When this pandemic is over, the backlog for diagnostic tests and various treatments is uncertain. Patients with cancer are already up against the clock; delayed procedures cause even more uneasiness, leaving patients worried their disease will spread further.
The work of Canada’s internationally leading cancer scientists is being delayed because their labs are closed, resulting in setbacks or discontinued research. This will have a major impact on the future of Canadian cancer care. Cancer research, including clinical trials, often improves outcomes for patients in real time, and interruptions will negatively affect patient care.
At present, we are understandably consumed by managing the chaotic impact of the pandemic on our families and work. However, for cancer patients, their caregivers and loved ones, the chaos the rest of us are experiencing is amplified by the uncertainty COVID-19 has triggered in our usually reliable cancer system.
When you or someone you love has cancer, the passage of time changes: It slows down and accelerates simultaneously. It’s measured a moment and a hug at a time. As hugs and moments with extended family and friends are verboten because of physical distancing, imagine how hard it is for someone with cancer to seek comfort. During these critically difficult moments, the role of cancer support organizations has become more important than ever before.
But COVID-19 is attacking these organizations, too. For the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), April is “Daffodil Month” – the time of year when 27,000 of our dedicated CCS volunteers would normally be out in communities all over Canada, raising funds to provide trusted information, and support for cancer patients and their families to help them through their cancer journey. But like the rest of us, our volunteers are staying home. The hundreds of fundraising events we’ve had to cancel across the country have led us to forecast a drop in donations of about $100 million in the year ahead – more than half our budget. In our 80-year history, CCS has never faced a greater challenge. The impact of the pandemic on CCS and all charities has been devastating and threatens the stability of a support infrastructure that has taken decades to build.
The pandemic is forcing us all to react rapidly and creatively to an unprecedented threat. Because CCS is fundamentally important to patient care, research and advocacy for cancer patients, we are determined that COVID-19 will not frustrate our efforts on behalf of our community.
As Canada grapples with this pandemic, we’re reminded that we’re all in this together. We’re finding creative solutions to help those who need us, driving innovation to match the crisis we’re facing. At the Canadian Cancer Society, daffodils are going digital, and our kids’ camps are gathering around a virtual campfire. The patients, survivors and caregivers we support are connecting in new ways. Our toll-free cancer helpline is providing critical information, and reducing anxiety and isolation.
The health care system is also evolving quickly. Health care workers are taking their rightful place as real-life superheroes. Everyone in the cancer community is collaborating to help cancer patients in different ways.
The CCS knows our role in helping cancer patients has never been more important than it is today. Our government is responding to our need for support so we can help take pressure off provincial health systems and improve assistance for Canadians with cancer during this crisis.
We need to ensure that both cancer patients and cancer researchers aren’t forgotten. Canada needs to protect and expand our charitable infrastructure and services even in the face of financial challenge. This is important for individual Canadians, our governments, businesses and other charities.
Our government is doing a good job navigating uncharted waters. CCS is here to help. Together, we can weather this storm.
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