The coronavirus pandemic shut down clinics and labs for months, deferring hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings. Cases that could have — and should have — been caught earlier were not.
It took at least six months for Rhonda Johnstone of Roswell, New Mexico, to be diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. There are a mass of tumors in 52-year-old's right breast.
She said fear was the first thing that ran through her mind.
"I've got five grandkids, and I want to be her to watch them grow up," she said. "I really had to fight for my care, had to fight for testing. I had to fight to be seen. I just had to fight for answers. And I don' think that's fair."
Dr. Linda Ann Smith, a breast surgeon is Albuquerque, is now treating Johnstone half a year later.
"I am seeing people with advanced cancers, cancers that are bleeding, cancer that are in the skin," Smith said.
Johnstone is undergoing chemotherapy to shrink her tumors so Smith can operate. Smith said she didn't feel she could safely operate on Johnstone "without spreading the cells."
"It was just too advanced," Smith said. "Anyone in cancer care will tell you we are doing harder surgeries, seeing sicker patients, people who have to go through extensive treatment before we can take them to surgery."
The National Cancer Institute predicts the number of people who will die from breast and colon cancer in the U.S. will increase by nearly 10,000 over the next decade because of COVID-19's impact on cancer care.
Despite that, Johnstone's spirits are high about defeating cancer: "I'm going to get it and then get it good.
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