Today (February 4) is World Cancer Day, a day to commemorate all individuals working in the cancer landscape – whether they are patients, caregivers, survivors, health care workers or even health care institutions and industry partners.
World Cancer Day also provides an important opportunity to highlight that anyone and everyone is invested in the fight against cancer. This is why the global theme for World Cancer Day is “I Am and I Will” – a question we need to ask ourselves on what role we can play in reducing the impact of cancer.
It could be as a parent, ensuring that your children eat healthy, nutritious food to reduce their risk of cancer; it could be as a teacher educating your students on being more aware of cancer; and it even could be as a child, ensuring your parents undergo cancer screening regularly.
This World Cancer Day, the roles we can play in fighting cancer are even more challenging with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout the past year, we have and continue to see the horrific effects of Covid-19 on all Malaysians, be it from the financial impact on businesses, the impact on the educational sector, or the catastrophic impact on livelihoods and households all throughout the nation.
There has also been an impact on non-communicable diseases; and cancer care is one of those that has taken a ‘silent but violent’ hit. Reports coming in from across the nation are similar and speak of a worrying signal, which sadly is reflective of data and evidence from other countries all over the world.
Individuals with symptoms are staying home, scared to come out to see doctors in clinics and hospitals to find out whether they do have something wrong, because they are worried, they may be infected with Covid-19. Those already diagnosed with cancer are facing delays in starting treatment such as surgeries as many healthcare institutions become overwhelmed with managing Covid-19 patients.
Those who are already on treatment are facing delays in continuing treatment as these treatments get postponed for similar reasons as mentioned above. Patients who need home care are facing difficulties in obtaining home care due to travel and other movement restrictions.
Compounding these conditions is the reality that as economic conditions worsen, more patients or caregivers are losing their jobs and livelihoods, with the attendant financial difficulties causing them to drop-out of treatment altogether.
On top of all this, there is strong evidence signalling that cancer patients are more at risk to be infected with Covid-19, and when they are infected, they have more severe forms of Covid-19 compared to other individuals. As if all this was not enough, the stress and mental anguish of these patients due to the uncertainties they face are causing major mental health problems which also remain unaddressed, with some resorting to suicide as the only way to end their suffering.
So this World Cancer Day, what do we even hope to achieve? If anything, the situation as pictured above looks bleak and hopeless. Yet, we cancer advocates continue to put forward a message of hope.
We have hope in the health system that health care workers will strive ceaselessly and try their best to adapt and evolve to cope with the challenges from Covid-19 to continue caring for cancer patients.
We have hope that the authorities will continue playing their part in supporting cancer care programmes and providing the funding needed to ensure that care and treatment is ongoing.
We have hope that organisations and communities will step forward to provide whatever aid in whatever form to help patients – be it through financial, social, medical or psychological means.
We have hope that the average Malaysian – yes, you the reader – have and will continue stepping forward to help anyone and everyone in the cancer care landscape in whatever way that you can.
This World Cancer Day, we are Malaysian cancer care advocates; and we will continue fighting cancer for all Malaysians everywhere, pandemic or not. Will you?
Dr Saunthari Somasundaram, Dr Murallitharan M., Mandy Thoo and Niranjni Jayabalan are members of the National Cancer Society of Malaysia.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.