Opinion: Facing cancer and COVID policies

We rightly welcome growing resources to address COVID. But what about the research and development for people like my husband?

The Toronto Sun 3 minute read December 29, 2021

There were spots and bleeding. The doctor said we’d know more the next day. I knew right then. It was cancer. Again.

It was September 2020, in what now feels like the early days of COVID. I had spent the night standing next to my 38-year-old husband’s emergency room bed, swallowing panic. At 2 a.m., the doctor brought results from preliminary tests.

“We have a four- and six-year-old,” I choked.

What I meant was: “You need to fix this. You need to save him. I can’t go on without him.”

I was sure it was cancer because in the last two decades cancer has torn through my family. I was the first, at 21. Then it struck my grandfather and mother. Now cancer was striking my husband: A terrible type with very few effective treatments.

My husband was fortunate none of his tests or treatments were cancelled due to COVID policies. Otherwise, he would have been one of thousands of Canadians who have died from delayed health care. He is now, thankfully, “free of disease” and generally healthy. But “remission” won’t be part of his medical lexicon for years.

Witnessing the world handling the COVID crisis, as I watched chemo eat away at my husband, was unnerving. The percentage of cumulative COVID-related deaths among Ontario’s confirmed cases is 1.5%. Yet I saw government pull out all the stops. New vaccines rolled out in rapid succession. Meanwhile, my husband deteriorated from his likely ineffective cancer drug. No new drugs have been developed in recent years to treat his form of cancer.

We rightly welcome growing resources to address COVID. But what about the research and development for people like my husband? Why is it moving so much slower? Canadians have a 28.2% chance of dying of cancer, making it our leading cause of death. Have we struck an imbalance?

The snippets of Premier Doug Ford’s press conferences, where speakers talked about bucking up and pulling together while dividing us into isolated silos, seemed so out of touch. Don’t we need a community to help fight cancer and survive its treatment, too? Yes, we do.

In the fight against COVID, as with cancer, we cannot forget about the non-COVID patients and their families suffering just as profoundly. They are also becoming victims of the fall-out from COVID measures. We need wisdom to ensure that we are not making public health decisions through the myopic lens of COVID.

My husband and I own a law firm, and we have spoken to nurses, doctors and medical residents who have lost their jobs. All were willing to undergo rapid testing to ensure they were not bringing COVID into their facilities, unlike their fully vaccinated colleagues, who may unknowingly do so. They have been forced out of the health-care system, and we now have fewer professionals to care for us.

Because of hospital visitor vaccine policies, we’ve received calls from family members who could not spend the final hours with dying loved ones. They, too, were willing to be rapid tested. But being a healthy adult who has tested negative for COVID is just not good enough. Patients now fade away without their loved ones.

With rapid testing so readily available, are these types of measures protecting patients? Or do they exist to coerce the remaining small number of Ontarians to get vaccinated? If so, why, when we have far surpassed the multiple original targets for herd immunity?

COVID is a terrible virus. Unfortunately, there are many other terrible conditions such as cancer, mental illness and addictions ravaging our loved ones.

When we make public health decisions, we are duty-bound to remember those suffering citizens and their need for testing, access to medical professionals, and support from their loved ones. We all know that’s true. But what are we doing about it?

— Faye Sonier is Legal Counsel and General Manager at The Acacia Group (acaciagroup.ca), a boutique law and communications firm.