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Rebound Detroit: Why cancer treatment simply can't wait during a pandemic

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Posted at 8:10 PM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 20:12:07-04

(WXYZ) — Since the pandemic struck at the start of spring, people have been paralyzed with fear. And that fear has stopped many from entering the hospital due to worry about catching the potentially deadly coronavirus. That means heart patients, or other ailments, have gone unchecked but one health crisis that cannot wait is cancer.

Aerin Leigh knows COVID-19 can kill, but her fear of dying of cancer is even greater it nearly took her baby girl.

"We have come so far," Aerin said. "She had lukemia when she was 3. She's 32 now."

Medical advances saved her daughter , and Aerin too. Last October, doctor's discovered cancer had invaded her abdomen.

"My appendix burst and spilled toxins and cancer into my system and (I) grew a 23 pound tumor," Aerin said.

The tumor removal came with a hysterectomy, but the cancer stage 4 had already spread and she needed a second surgery just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

"Even in the scariest of times, like the pandemic we're in now, if they were willing to do my surgery i was going to get it done," Aerin said.

Across the country, cancer screenings have been down 80 to 90 percent.

"Cancer cannot wait," said Dr. Richard Berri. "If we think that we can wait and think that the cancer will not progress, or not put our patients in a more difficult position after waiting, then I think we're making a mistake."

Dr. Berri is the chief of surgical oncology at Ascension Michigan. He says hospitals are taking all precautions and following CDC guidelines to keep patients safe.

"I think the hospital is actually one of the safest places to be and when it comes to cancer, the risk of cancer progressing or the risk of cancer being diagnosed at a later stage is far more dangerous than the risk of contracting COVID," Dr. Berri said.

Aerin sought treatment at Ascension Michigan because Dr. Berri developed a program to treat advanced cancers of the abdomen like hers. Its called HIPEC, or Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy.

In May, Aerin received HIPEC. She was in and out of the hospital in record time – just three days.

"Is she considered cancer free? She is," Dr. Berri said. "And I think she continues to do well and we will continue to watch her."

Aerin leaves this message: "Take care of yourself, because nobody else is going to you are your best advocate."

So here's the Rebound Rundown:
- Cancer cannot wait, so get screened now
- Hospitals are again doing other surgeries and taking all precautions to keep you safe

Dr. Berri adds that if you're still fearful about coming into the hospital for a cancer screening, they will meet with you virtually.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.