The Canadian oncology community is uniting for World Cancer Day, hoping to shed light on the far reaching impact of COVID-19 on cancer care.
"I had a lump in my breast, I thought it was menopausal, I thought it would go away," says Deborah Peniuk.
But the lump didn't go away and Peniuk was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer at the age of 44. Peniuk is now advocating for routine health check ups.
"Now is not the time to ignore those things, now is the time to really be diligent," she says.
"Checking your skin, checking when something is not healing quickly, noticing if you're breathing differently, noticing if you're getting headaches, these are things that we need to pay attention to and we need to address - and we need to actually reach out to our medical professionals and not be so concerned about getting COVID versus getting care."
As Thursday marks World Cancer Day, an alliance of more than 25 health-care organizations, including the Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada with support from AstraZeneca, are teaming up in support of New Normal, Same Cancer, a public awareness campaign encouraging Canadians to get back to cancer care.
Gynecologic oncologist at the London Health Science Centre's Victoria Hospital in London, Ont., Dr. Jacob McGee says worldwide, there's been a 40 per cent drop in cancer diagnoses during the pandemic.
"We certainly see that we are having fewer patients present with cancers, at least initially. With the onset of the pandemic, and now, what we're seeing is patients presenting at more advanced stages, and in situations where it's difficult to deliver the care that we can provide."
Currently living with stage four lung cancer, Diane Van Keulen knows first-hand the importance of not ignoring symptoms.
As a high-risk patient, Van Keulen says she avoided hospital settings in 2020, even when dealing with severe pain. Unfortunately this led to regrowth of tumors in her lungs.
"Do not let your fear of contracting COVID-19 in a hospital setting override the need and necessity to get your symptoms checked out. Again, stage one is an entire different ball game compared to stage four, and you do not want to wait until stage four, take it from me."