John Weed was diagnosed with colorectal cancer shortly after the coronavirus outbreak brought him home from his work as a union electrician. He is glad he did not brush his symptoms off as nothing. A colonoscopy caught the stage two cancer before it spread to other parts of the body.

He has some family history with the disease, but admitted that cancer was never on his radar. Getting diagnosed during the coronavirus pandemic has made him more cautious about his health.

“I’m glad I listened to my body and got it checked out and they found it early,” he said.

He has lost 30 pounds since the surgery in November that removed part of his intestines, and started chemotherapy infusions Jan. 15, he said. The chemo will weaken his body to the point where he will not be able to consume cold foods or drinks and it means that he must be in isolation to prevent his contracting COVID-19.

Many of the precautions providers at Northern Light Cancer Care advise their patients to take align with coronavirus mandates, according to Clinical Educator Angel Francini BSN, RN, OCN. The facility encourages patients to wear masks, wash their hands, avoid public spaces and stay away from sick people.

Contracting the novel coronavirus increases a cancer patient's chances of dying, because chemotherapy and radiation run down the body’s immune system, Francini said. Cancer is sometimes treated like a chronic illness in patients who are receiving treatments to prolong their life. But if cancer patients contract COVID-19, it can kill them much sooner, shortening their life and giving their loved ones less time with them.

The clinical educator encourages the public to adhere to coronavirus precautions to help protect people who are most at risk of dying from the virus.

“When you’re young and healthy, you may do just fine if you contract the virus, but a lot of these patients … are immunocompromised,” she said. “The immunocompromised patients, the elderly patients, patients with underlying conditions, those are the people that will not do well.

“So, if you have the option to be part of the group of people that are helping to keep these people safe, I’m not sure why we wouldn’t all want to do that.”

But the physical symptoms are not the only burden he must bear, Weed said. Steep medical costs are whittling away at his family’s life savings and if he cannot return to work later this year, he is concerned about his financial situation.

The supplies for his ileostomy, a surgically created opening in the abdominal wall through which digested food passes, are $600 per month, he said. He is fortunate to have health insurance to cover much of the cost; however, he still must pay for his insurance plan, copays and costs insurance does not cover. He also has to meet his yearly deductible, which renews after the new year, before his insurance company starts paying for his care again.

The illness has taken a toll on his wife, Gina, who has watched him suffer through debilitating symptoms and assisted him with personal care needs, he said. She is glad that he was diagnosed at stage two. “Early detection is the best,” she said.

He feels fortunate to have a community around him that has helped him with things from donations to cooking meals. As of Jan. 26, he had raised $5,578 of his $20,000 goal through a GoFundMe account.

“These people made my battle that much easier, with all the crap going on in the world,” he wrote in an email. “It's so nice to see the compassion and love of these people. Some I might have worked with for a couple months on a job out of state 15 years ago, a Unity College alum that I haven't seen for 20 years, and the individuals I don't even know.”

Donations can be made through GoFundMe.com under Help John and Gina Weed.