by Cyrine-Eliana Haidar, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP
Clinical Pharmacogenetics Coordinator
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Member, BPS Board of Directors
For the last six months, our personal and professional lives have been profoundly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of what we think about as healthcare practitioners and as members of the BPS Board of Directors is how we can best manage COVID-19 and its ongoing impact on our clinical practices, certification processes, board-certified pharmacists and patients served.
Life does not stop during the pandemic; people continue to be diagnosed with life-threatening diseases and we are still taking care of patients with cancer. September has been proclaimed National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to bring awareness that childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease for children younger than 14 years of age in the US. An average of 43 children are diagnosed with cancer in the US every day. Each year, more than a quarter of a million children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer. Indeed, we have made enormous progress in curing these children, the overall childhood cancer survival rate is now at more than 80% in the US (up from about 20% in the 1950s). However, more than 95% of survivors have significant treatment-related morbidities, making our current quest for more effective and less toxic treatment more important than ever.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting most of the world, we have had our activities restricted, clinicians must use PPE, many colleagues have been working from home, online meetings have become our new norm, business and leisure travel have come to a near halt, and our children’s education has moved to the virtual world. This year’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness month has a special meaning because we have had to live in the harsh new reality of isolation. Unfortunately, the concept of isolation is no stranger to children battling cancer. While receiving cancer-directed therapy, many children are isolated from their friends, their schools, and their extended family. This is the norm for children battling cancer: they are recommended to avoid big crowds. Familiar places like movie theaters, schools, and other big gatherings are prohibited because their immune systems are so weak that any infection they contract could prove to be lethal. For many survivors of childhood cancer, especially the ones who have had to undergo a bone marrow transplant, this is at least the second time in their life that they are in isolation. Perhaps today, isolation is easier for them: the whole world is isolated with them and they are the experts since they’ve done it before¹. It is comforting to them that we now understand the harsh isolated reality that comes with battling cancer.
As essential workers, pharmacists have been at the frontline of waging the war against cancer during the pandemic. There are over 3,000 Board-Certified Oncology Pharmacists who take care of people diagnosed with cancer. Many of these individuals take care of pediatric patients as well as the adolescent and the young adult populations. An additional 1,200 pharmacists are board-certified in pediatrics, they too get to take care of children with cancer or help in managing their comorbidities and survivorship complications.
As I conclude this blog, I hope that you all stay safe and that we will all see each other again at in-person meetings and networking sessions soon. I trust that we will come out of this stronger and more resilient. But for now, wear gold (and your mask!) in honor of the kids fighting for their life, because their fight is our fight too!
¹Williams, A. Six Methods to shelter in place like you’ve done this before, from a bone marrow transplant survivor. St. Jude Progress Magazine April 2020. https://blogs.stjude.org/progress/shelter-in-place-quarantine-covid-19/