LANCASTER, S.C. – Oncologist Kashyap Patel brandishes test results he’s eager to share with his patient, Tamaki Caldwell, showing that her advanced ovarian cancer, once the size of tennis balls, is in remission. Smiling, she says, “I’m going to frame this.”
It’s a rare bright moment for Caldwell, 53, who knows she is in the fight of her life, one made significantly more arduous by the coronavirus pandemic. She started having abdominal pain last year – “it was like grab and release, grab and release” – but she didn’t see a doctor for months because of concerns about the pandemic and because she was taking care of her grandmother, who had covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Now, after six months of chemotherapy, Caldwell feels “like somebody whopped me,” she said during a visit to Patel’s clinic in late summer. “But I did what I had to do.”
Covid and cancer are a menacing mix – for everyone, but especially for people of color from low-income communities. African Americans and Hispanics are about twice as likely as White people to die of covid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black cancer patients are at particularly high risk for complications and hospitalizations. Even before the pandemic, Black people had lower survival rates for many cancers compared with White people. Now, with the pandemic grinding on, many doctors fear those inequalities will worsen.