In November 2020, production engineer Luiz Sant’Anna Júnior, 25, received the news he had been waiting for over a year and a half: the remission of cancer. The envelope with the results of laboratory and imaging tests to monitor the evolution of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that the young man had identified in 2019 was closed for five days. He had planned a weekend at a friend’s house in the countryside – after covid tests and all the care they could take – and he didn’t want a possibly negative news to disrupt the vacation. “On November 30, I saw the result, and it was a lot of emotion. My mother and I hugging, jumping, the dogs jumping behind, we call friends and the closest family… ”, he says.
Sant’Anna Júnior had been under treatment since the beginning of the year, after long months of exams and consultations to identify the disease. When the new coronavirus took Brazil more intensely in March – and in Recife (PE), where he lives, in April -, some of the consultations went online, but the treatment was not interrupted. “I think that a patient who decides not to go (to treatment) is taking more risks than if he goes. The greatest risk for the patient should not be the fear of contracting the virus. The fear must be that cancer kills, ”he says. It is worth mentioning that he had the disease diagnosed at an early age, in phase 1. With the experience of his maternal grandfather, who had died of the same disease in 2018, the young man was attentive to the signs for a possible lymphoma.
Unlike Sant’Anna Júnior, thousands of Brazilians failed to make appointments or tests that could help identify tumors since the beginning of the pandemic. The National Cancer Institute (Inca) estimated that in 2020 the country would have approximately 625 thousand new cases of the disease. However, in the first two months of the pandemic, it is estimated that between 50 thousand and 90 thousand Brazilians have stopped receiving the diagnosis, according to the Brazilian Society of Oncological Surgery (SBCO). “ The cancer epidemic is already announced. The covid pandemic was a surprise, ”says Marlene Oliveira, president of the Lado a Lado Pela Vida Institute.
“Different groups of people dealt with the pandemic in different ways. And in particular among cancer patients there was an initial reaction of a lot of fear associated with the disease. Many people stopped doing detection tests ”, reports oncologist Carlos Barrios. “It was a time when 700 people died a day in Italy. I thought: if I get here and I get it, I’m going to die ”, says Sant’Anna Júnior.
2021: the year of care
After the initial fear was over, both doctors and patients learned to deal with the pandemic and identified safe ways to follow treatments, or initiate them. “ The protocols adopted since the first visit (to the clinic) made me feel comfortable. It ends up becoming a routine. You know exactly what is going to happen: who is going to talk to you, what is going to be said, how they can or cannot act, what they can or cannot touch ”, reports patient Sant’Anna Júnior.
Some consultations have been adapted to virtual platforms – something that Barrios believes has come to stay in several cases – but face-to-face treatment remains necessary, and the health system is prepared to receive these patients, guarantees the doctor. The sooner the cancer is identified, the better. “ The decrease in diagnosis has made the cases that will be diagnosed later to become more serious. And that leads to an inevitable consequence: mortality from the disease is expected to be higher in the coming years. ”
In order to remember the importance of consultations and the continuity of cancer treatment in this pandemic moment, AstraZeneca launched the campaign “Normal has changed, cancer has not”. With several partnerships, including with the Lado a Lado Pela Vida Institute, the idea is to encourage these patients and make 2021 the year of care. “Cancer does not wait for the pandemic to pass. It is important that there are more campaigns like this, that everywhere we talk about it ”, says Marlene Oliveira. “Patients are still insecure and a little confused in Brazil. We need voices that show assertive paths. ”
Who lives with patients undergoing cancer treatment also plays a key role in this awareness, says Barrios, who sees in the office the importance of the support of friends and family. For Sant’Anna Júnior, the monitoring of family, friends and even the boss and colleagues at work was essential, he says. And he adds: “People are diagnosed with cancer as if they were receiving a death certificate. This is not true. There are several forms of treatment, science has advanced a lot, it is absurd how human knowledge grows. Those diagnosed with cancer must live, learn to continue living ”.