Life “hanging by a thread” to Italian cancer patients in coronavirus crisis | News from the world


Since the coronavirus epidemic hit Italy, Francesca Masi has felt her life hanging by a thread. She was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare cancer of the bone marrow, in 2016 and was due for a transplant this month, but now worries that it will be postponed because the country is facing the pandemic.

Access to thousands of cancer patients in need of chemotherapy, scans, transplants and surgery has become difficult, if not impossible, in the Covid-19 emergency in Italy.

Across the country, dozens of cancer departments and hospitals have been transformed to treat the coronavirus, while others have closed after medical staff and patients became infected. There are now fewer beds in the intensive care units for cancer patients.

“At the beginning of my diagnosis, I underwent other treatments with success, but since my conditions worsened, the transplant became my only option. So being stuck in this situation makes me live in a constant state of anxiety, “said Masi, who lives and works in Pontedera, in the province of Pisa. She is 46 years old and the mother of a 10-year-old boy. “I now run the risk of dying, which is not fair, because my doctors finally located two foreign donors whose marrow was 100% compatible with mine.” International flight restrictions to stop spread
coronavirus means that the marrow of foreign donors may not arrive in Italy.

Research led by Codice Viola, a charity that supports patients with pancreatic cancer, and seen exclusively by the Guardian, has found that out of 500 patients primarily breast or pancreas, appointments for chemotherapy or radiation therapy was postponed by 24% (11% with no agreed date), while 64% of surgical procedures were postponed indefinitely. More than half had postponed follow-up appointments.

Dozens of patients and doctors who spoke to the Guardian fear that restrictive measures to contain the virus limit access to appropriate medical care for cancer patients, who also account for 17% of deaths from Italian coronavirus, according to a recent study .

Francesca Pesce has pancreatic cancer.

Francesca Pesce has pancreatic cancer. “Patients are afraid of contracting the virus in hospitals. Hospitals have been forced to cancel their appointments because oncologists assist in emergencies. “

Francesca Pesce, 54, professional translator and member of Codice Viola, has been living with metastatic pancreatic cancer for almost three years. This week, she will leave Rome for a follow-up in Milan, one of the cities most affected by the virus.

“At least I have that option, which others don’t have,” she said. “On the one hand, cancer patients are afraid of contracting the virus in hospitals, so they give up their treatments; on the other, hospitals were forced to cancel their appointments because many oncologists and anesthesiologists were transferred to other departments to assist in the Covid-19 emergency. “

Paolo Ascierto, an oncologist at the Pascale Hospital in Naples who currently treats patients with coronavirus, said that converting cancer services to Covid-19 units could be risky. “I understand the state of emergency, but we must not forget that cancer patients need dedicated and specialized treatment. There are special conditions, such as follow-up patients, that can be safely managed using online consultations to monitor the patient’s progress.

“But there are other conditions, such as metastatic patients, that must be given priority, because a lack of constant attention can make the difference between life and death. “

In Ortona, Abruzzo, protests erupted following the announcement by local authorities that the only hospital in the region specializing in the treatment of women’s cancer was to be fully converted to treat Covid-19 patients.

When cancer services are running, certain diagnostic procedures, such as endoscopies, may be limited and a decrease in blood donation limits surgical options. “At the moment, only urgent surgical procedures are performed,” says Pesce. “And even urgent procedures are now blocked, due to a shortage of blood due to the coronavirus emergency. “

The closure of air routes to and from Italy has also made it virtually impossible for thousands of cancer patients to access treatment at other European hospitals.

Alessandra Capone has had breast cancer for 10 years.

Alessandra Capone has had breast cancer for 10 years. “You can protect yourself from the coronavirus by staying at home, but cancer does not follow the dictates of quarantine or decrees. “

Alessandra Capone, 47, dancer, feminist and human rights activist, has been living with breast cancer for 10 years. In 2015, it spread to the liver and lymph nodes, and last year she started a series of treatments at the University Hospital in Frankfurt with only 5% of her liver free from cancer. She now faces enormous difficulties in traveling to Germany.

“I contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation but the line is still busy and I couldn’t speak to anyone. I then contacted the Italian consulate in Frankfurt. They told me that I needed a number of certifications to travel to another country, even for health reasons. Not to mention that very few hotels in Germany accept reservations, especially from Italians, during this emergency. It’s very stressful. “

However, for the first time, the Italian government last week authorized an air force flight to Turkey to obtain hemopoietic stem cells from a donor of a two-year-old boy whose condition had worsened.

Travel is also limited to Italy, where patients from Sicily, Puglia, and Calabria often undergo richer treatments and operations in Veneto and Lombardy, which are among the most affected regions of the country for Covid-19.

Grazia De Michele, 39, blogger and researcher in medical history, lives in Foggia, Puglia, and has been living with breast cancer since 2010. A few months ago, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer . “My mom was supposed to have a CT scan in March to see if the chemo she is working on, but the treatment has been postponed,” she said. “I had to have an oophorectomy and my operation was also postponed.”

Grazia De Michele has breast cancer.

Grazia De Michele has breast cancer. “My mom was supposed to have a CT scan to see if the chemo worked. My operation was also postponed. “

“You have to imagine what it means for cancer patients,” says Capone. “Many live in constant anxiety, afraid of dying. The emergency caused by the coronavirus put them in enormous psychological and physical distress. You see, you can protect yourself from the coronavirus by staying at home, but it’s not the same with cancer. Cancer does not follow the dictates of quarantines or decrees. This continues, in times of war and peace. “


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