Just six months ago, we were facing the unknown, the uncertain future, and the collective anxiety of a community sheltering at home. Today, we’re finding ourselves in a new crisis – the “prognosis” of the global pandemic appears to be lingering for (at least) another year.
At times, it feels as if the wind has been taken from our sails. Many of us have gone months without seeing friends, colleagues and loved ones. Our children and families are feeling the same. Yet, hope still exists. It is perhaps fitting that in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we find ourselves at a crucial point in our collective history. New hope for the cancer community – even during a pandemic – sheds new light on our paths going forward.
Scientific Breakthroughs and New Treatment Options
Although it feels as though everything came to a grinding halt at the start of the pandemic, science continues marching forward. Doctors, researchers, and oncologists have not forgotten us. In June, the FDA approved a targeted treatment for metastatic breast cancer called Phesgo for HER2-Postive breast cancer. This new combination injection treatment can be administered at-home, providing a safe option for our most vulnerable friends and loved ones. As new medicinal options become available in 2020 and beyond, we feel optimistic and hopeful for the future.
Good News for Patients Concerned About Delaying Treatment
Many in our community made the agonizing decision to either pause or delay surgeries, treatments, or routine health checks. Anxiety over health has run high as many would wonder, “Did I make the wrong decision?” According to a recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, women with early-stage breast cancer, who have chosen to delay certain surgeries due to COVID-19, can still expect an excellent prognosis. This study looked at data from the National Cancer Database on almost 380,000 patients, and while it was specific to certain treatment options, it was one of the first to look at the impact of COVID-19 delays on cancer. Considering that six months ago, this impact was very much an unknown, we’re finding hope in the data.
Nature’s Wisdom Never Ceases to Impress Us
When our workplaces, schools, and community centers closed their doors, it was Mother Nature who answered our call. Many of us took to the hills, literally, to hike, explore, and burn off the excess energy (and worry). Our planet is incredible. It seems like every year we discover an amazing breakthrough or scientific discovery just hiding in plain sight. Take bees, for example. Honey bees gained national attention in recent years due to colony collapse and conservation efforts. Scientists are now studying bee venom for its anti-cancer properties. Looking at a peptide in the venom called melittin (and its synthetic twin), scientists tested its impact on triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells. The peptide not only destroyed cancer cells, but was able to reduce the chemical messages of newly forming cancer cells. More research will need to take place, so we’re not advocating for anyone to get stung by a bee at this point. However, knowing that nature contains so much potential and so many amazing, yet hidden, properties gives us hope.
Rising From the Ashes, Together
The news is particularly dark as of late, and perhaps for some of us, we also have personal news that is difficult to bear. It’s easy to lose hope when we cannot say for certain how things will turn out in the end. We have been watching the devastation of the California and Oregon wildfires, reminding us that life is oh so precious — and fragile. As a reminder of nature’s resiliency, we’ve learned that native species of birds are actually thriving in these areas. Once endangered woodpeckers are doing their part to refurbish the forests, restoring new life into the region's hardest hit spots. When it feels like all is lost, we’re reminded, simply, to have hope.
"Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words , and never stops – at all." – Emily Dickinson