COVID-19 pandemic creating challenges in battle against breast cancer

Special Reports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Raquel Smith is thankful to call herself a breast cancer survivor these days, but the journey to get there was long.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that journey is now on hold.

“I still have reconstruction that I need to finish,” Smith said. “But once everything is back to normal I’ll go back and do my reconstruction.”

In the meantime, she’s still getting checkups and going through many safety procedures any time she enters a medical facility.

“You have to have the mask, they do the temperature check, everything – the whole nine yards,” Smith said.

But for many women, the pandemic has been a barrier to preventive care.

“What we are finding out is that many people who are planning to get their screenings are concerned about their safety,” UAB professor Dr. Monica Baskin said.

Baskin is the associate director for community outreach and engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. She said if women aren’t able to get their screenings during the pandemic, it could lead to big problems.

“We expect that there will be more lives lost because people are not able to get in and get screened, because we know for sure that early detection is what saves lives,” Baskin said.

That’s why medical centers like UAB are implementing safety procedures – including social distancing, mask requirements and temperature checks – for all patients. Smith has to go through the process each time she visits the UAB Obstetrics Complications Clinic, where she’s been a regular patient since finding out she was pregnant around the start of the pandemic. Her pregnancy is considered complicated because of her history with breast cancer.

“I’m thankful to be alive,” Smith said. “I’m thankful to be having this baby, too.”

She said it’s a lot to deal with all at once, but she prays a lot, leans on her family’s support, and takes comfort in knowing she’s safe when getting medical care.

“It’s good to know that we are COVID free,” Smith said. “So that’s a blessing in it, because that was one of our big worries, and we’re doing okay.”

Smith was just 27 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, she runs an organization called Pink Topps. It’s dedicated to helping younger women learn about breast cancer prevention.


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