The news story on CNN this Monday of a woman with Stage 4 cancer — dying because she could not find an open ICU unit in Texas to treat her — was mind-boggling.

When did cancer become second place to COVID?

Twenty years ago, when I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the world stopped to help me. From oncologists to caregivers, from colleagues to friends, the deadly diagnosis stopped the world in its tracks.

Cancer is not so important today, apparently. Not when the Emergency Room at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale is setting up a temporary mortuary on Andrews Avenue for its COVID-19 patients.

 Last week, I spent the day in the diagnostic testing labs of the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Deerfield Beach.

I entered eerily on Friday morning, through the door on the right that is the one for testing. The one on the left was for Radiation and Oncology treatments. Depending on the results of this day, I could be back there by next week, but entering through the door on the left.

I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I thought the handwriting was on the wall. From the initial observations of the stroke in my cerebellum in June, to the small tumor diagnosed in my cerebrum in July, there were medical indicators of cancerous cells that hitchhiked their way into my brain from elsewhere in my body.

But it was “only” cancer, the doctors said. “That moves slowly. First, we must deal with this cerebral stroke. Then the tumor in your brain.” Priorities, priorities. We all have priorities.

Then came COVID-19, and the doctors said, First, we have to save your life from COVID-19, “then we can treat the possibility of cancer.” Besides, “we have to quarantine you.”

So, I identified with this woman to whom Chris Cuomo spoke this week. I could hear the pain of her husband, an Army veteran, after she passed.

How is it that in the 21st century of modern America, where we are sending rich guys in private rocket ships to the Moon, we are ineffectively responding to a pandemic still?

How did this happen?

How did we take a worldwide pathogen that so many scientists saw coming, and warned us about for so many years and turn it into a national culture war over masks?

Have we not been taking vaccines for decades, since our first polio shots 50 years ago? Hell, the chemicals in our diet sodas and air conditioners are probably worse.

Last Sunday, at any bar in Wilted Manors, you could have shown up dripping wet, wearing a tank top and shorts, and ordered an unmasked 2 for 1 Molson Ale or Mimosa.

In fact, I was going to enter my 1978 Lincoln Continental in the “Cobra Joe” Wilton Manors Car Show, an inaugural event with a strong initial turnout. Good show, Cobra Joe.

Can’t help noticing that all the pix I saw on Facebook do not show anyone wearing masks during this event. Not criticizing, mind you.  I understand. You were all out in the open. But, hey, what gives?

I was sorry I could not make the show. Real life kicked in. I was at a memorial service for Dr. Howard Cunningham’s husband, a dear friend, and a happy dad, Steven Vianest.

A month ago, a healthy and hearty Steven Vianest was touring Mayan Ruins with his son, taste testing homemade coconut cookies. It was the beginning of July. Steve was taken from us by COVID in less than 14 days in August.

This disease comes at you quickly and can take you off this Earth forever with brutal finality and swiftness. You may not see it every day, but it’s out there my friends. An epidemic is ravaging our community. Our governor and some of our cities are fighting its spread by putting up a chain-link fence to stop mosquitoes.

This is not so much so at the Sylvester Cancer Care Clinic in Deerfield Beach — you know, that place I began writing this column about.

When you spend the day in a cancer diagnostic center, you realize how the pandemic infecting and infiltrating our community is a lot more invasive than what you see as a 60 second sound bite on the evening news at 6 p.m.

Just to get into the cancer care clinic you must wear their own mask on top of your own. Before stepping inside, you get your hands washed and temperature taken.

And it almost goes without saying that their entire staff is garbed in protective hospital gear.

You are then given seats that are socially distanced, placed in a waiting room six feet apart from the nearest guest or patient.  Use a toilet, and someone might be in to clean it shortly thereafter.

When hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices in and around town are taking every precaution to protect their colleagues and patients, maybe it is time you realized you had better also. Maybe it is time we realized with this surge that we are not doing enough.

Don’t fall for the fluff of “it won’t happen to me,” and “it can’t happen here.”

It can happen to you, and it is still happening here.

An average of 1,665 cases per day were reported in Broward County in the past week. Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 1 in 6 residents have been infected, and a total of 320,837 cases were reported.

All will not survive, vaccinated or not. But being vaccinated will increase your chances.  Right now, Broward County is at extremely high risk for unvaccinated people.

It could be worse. You could have cancer, and then there may be no room to treat you at all. Because cancer is now in second place, itself a victim of COVID.

The world is upside down. But it forever remains a circle game, and the painted ponies go up and down. We are all captive on the carousel of time.


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