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COVID survivors, like cancer survivors, are “forever changed, physically, mentally and emotionally”

Dr. Joseph Caruso, a family physician at Beacon Medical Group Schwartz-Weikamp in Mishawaka, offers his perspective on working with COVID patients during the pandemic.

I knew the office visit would be difficult, but I was not prepared to hear my patient say, “I got my husband into hospice this morning.”

He is my age. I have taken care of him for over 30 years.

There are some cancers that are highly associated with obvious risk factors. There are others that seem to “come out of nowhere” and shock us, especially when they occur in young and seemingly healthy people with no clear risk factors. I have seen too many of these. Young women and men in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s in my practice have died from colon cancer, breast cancer, sarcomas, lymphomas and primary bone cancer, to name a few.

“He just says he wishes he knew what caused this.” He won’t get to find out, but more than likely, it was nothing that he did. It was bad luck and it was too far progressed before it caused any symptoms that led to its discovery.

About 600,000 people die of cancer in the U.S. every year. I am pretty sure that if a vaccine was available that made it 10 to 20 times less likely that a person who subsequently became afflicted by any variant of cancer would die from it, most people would be overjoyed and eager to get the vaccine.

In the past 12 months, we have had in the ballpark of 600,000 people in our country die from COVID. Had all of those people had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated for COVID before they were infected, there is data that indicates that somewhere between only 30,000 and 70,000 of them would have died.

Did a lot of those 600,000 people have “risk factors” for COVID? Sure. That doesn’t make them any less important, nor make their deaths more bearable, to their families and friends. And not all of the deaths are in high risk or elderly people.

I often have seen this online statement by people that like to minimize the significance of COVID: “Yeah, but most of the people survive COVID. Why doesn’t the media ever talk about the survivors?”

Well, I will tell you about the survivors. The ones that get out of the hospital after prolonged stays have been through hell. They are forever changed, physically, mentally and emotionally. Just like cancer survivors.

Their families have been through hell. Just like cancer survivors.

Many of them are forced into seemingly insurmountable financial obligations because of the cost of the care and the aftercare. The ones that were significantly symptomatic but managed to avoid the hospital tend to have some degree of residual physical effects for varying lengths of time. Many of them went through a period of being fearful for their lives.

I am writing this because it is heavy on my mind. If there are people reading this that are low risk for COVID and are not vaccinated, please understand that I am trying to prevent you from being the equivalent of a young person that is suddenly stricken with life-threatening cancer.

The difference is, the cancer patient had no option to prospectively reduce their risk of a bad outcome.

Cancer was not on their radar. COVID is on our radar. It is right in our faces.

And we have options to reduce the risk of bad outcomes in 500,000 to 600,000 people in the U.S. in the next year. Those options are the COVID vaccines.

I am pretty sure that we would welcome the opportunity to prevent that many people from dying of cancer in the next year. Why should we not welcome the opportunity to save that many people from dying from COVID?

The life you save might be your own, or your spouse, or your parent or your child.

About Heidi Prescott

Passionate about writing her whole life, Heidi Prescott joined Beacon Health System in 2015 and currently serves as Director of Communications. A former newspaper journalist who has experience in TV, radio, magazines and social media, Heidi loves storytelling, photography and spending time in nature.