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How One Woman Dealt With Cancer During Covid-19 And Her Message For Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Forbes

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. While there are many ways to honor, celebrate and mark this month, when you speak to Jennifer du Toit, she wants one of the top priorities of women everywhere to make screenings and put your health on the top of your to-do list.

In 2018, a study by Redbook and HealthyWomen (a non-profit dedicated to providing women with health information) found that 45% of women over 30 do not make time for their own health, in part because they’re too busy managing everyone else’s. In addition, 77% are not getting regular screenings and check-ups, and while 83 % of respondents say they are happy to be managing their family’s health, 66% say they feel only “somewhat in control” of their own health.

Making matters worse is the pandemic. There has been a sharp decline in breast and cervical cancer screening due to COVID-19. The total number of cancer screening tests received by women through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program declined by a steep 87% for breast cancer and 84% for cervical cancer during April 2020.

I spoke with Ms. du Toit about her unexpected breast cancer diagnosis during the pandemic, what she learned from this experience and what she wants you to know.

A Cancer Diagnosis Following A Healthy Mammogram Months Earlier

Ms. du Toit is a healthcare benefits consultant. Her work is primarily with employers to design the benefit plans and programs they offer to their employees – including medical and pharmacy benefits. Her forte is helping companies get the most from their investments in benefits to reduce costs or elevate recruiting, retention, reinvestment, and employee engagement.

She works at Buck, an integrated HR and benefits consulting, administration, and technology services provider. Headquartered in New York City, she is the lead Health consultant for one of their large national clients and is a member of the US leadership team.

It was in 2020 that du Toit noticed that she was feeling completely exhausted. “I figured my fatigue was attributable to stress, or perhaps I was anemic,” du Toit explained. “I wasn’t too worried. I was healthy. That said, I also knew it was time for a preventive exam. I booked the next available appointment with my primary care physician (PCP) a few months out. About four weeks before that check-up, I felt a small lump. I didn’t think much of it. I don’t have a family history of cancer, have never smoked, and I exercise. So I figured it was a fatty deposit, and my PCP would tell me exactly that during my appointment.”

When du Toit saw her doctor, he checked her records and reminded her that she had a clean mammogram only seven months prior. Still, he did the exam and very calmly told her he was getting her into radiology for another mammogram that afternoon. Immediately after the mammogram, the radiologist scheduled her for a biopsy the following morning.

“While I was awaiting the biopsy results, I went about my normal routine,” du Toit said. “I was scheduled to travel for work – so I did. On my way home from the airport, the radiologist called to tell me my biopsy results. It was cancer.”

Ms. du Toit spent the next two weeks meeting surgeons, an oncologist, having a series of tests and scans, and in between all of that, she was traveling for work and attending meetings. She was convinced this couldn’t be much, would be easily removed, and she’d be back in business as usual. Unbeknownst to her, however, and despite the normal mammogram seven months earlier, this cancer was moving fast and was aggressive. Post-surgery, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

Dealing With Cancer And Remote Learning During A Pandemic

du Toit had a double (bilateral) mastectomy on March 12, 2020, the day after the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic; less than four weeks after she saw her primary care physician for an initial check-up.

On top of managing her health and working full-time, du Toit also has two children. Henry, her youngest, is on the Autism Spectrum. So, she was not only dealing with cancer and a pandemic, but a special needs son who had his routine upended both by remote learning and his mother’s diagnosis.

du Toit makes clear that she was fortunate to have a lot of help. “My mom, a retired nurse, was on a plane to New York the day after I told her it was cancer. And my husband was everywhere, always, with anything we needed. He would sit next to Henry, off-camera, the entire school day to keep him on task. Our oldest son was more self-sufficient, but he wasn’t interested in remote learning either. So the three of us formulated a “divide and conquer” approach to navigating the pandemic, remote learning, cancer, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and anything else that came our way.”

While du Toit stated that she would never wish the pandemic on anyone, in some ways, she shared that it did help her to balance work and go through treatment more easily.

“Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot for my job,” she said. “As cancer was about to put a screeching halt to my work travel, the pandemic stopped travel for most everyone anyway. My clients and colleagues were all having to work from home at the same time I was being grounded. Meetings were held virtually, and neither my company nor my clients required on-camera participation. As a result, I was able to keep doing my job as ‘me.’ Not as ‘me with cancer.’ So, I think the pandemic helped from that perspective.”

However, the pandemic also kept du Toit’s husband and mother from attending any doctors’ appointments or during chemotherapy, which at times was difficult.

Work Became A Respite

In the early days of the pandemic, on their weekly Zoom call, du Toit told the US Leadership Team at Buck of her diagnosis. On that same call, a colleague announced that she, too, had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and hadn’t been sure how to tell the team. Afterward, a second colleague reached out to tell du Toit that her mother was going through the same thing. It quickly became clear that Buck would not only be supportive, but many could empathize.

Working was also a welcome distraction. “Work was my normal,” du Toit shared. “It was something I could focus on while cancer treatment was swirling around me. I could manage my job from a desk or bed, and no one knew the difference. So work became my ultimate distraction from cancer.”

In addition, her work experience also came in handy when managing her insurance coverage. While she still had her frustrations in ensuring claims were paid correctly and that specialty medications were being processed, her background in healthcare was a help.

Her Message To Others

Considering the Redbook and HealthyWomen study and the decline of screenings due to Covid-19, Ms. du Toit wants to encourage all women to prioritize themselves.

“Keep up with your preventive visits and screenings,” she encourages. “Don’t be complacent with a recent ‘clean’ check-ups or scan. Listen to your body – you know you better than anyone else. If you feel off, get checked out.”

Ms. du Toit also reminds us that it’s ok to ask for help, whether it’s your family, job, or friends.

“I know I have difficulty admitting when I need help. However, I was amazed and humbled by the help and support my family and I received during this time.”

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​Covid NI: Executive issues statement on Omicron variant and keeping schools open – Belfast Live

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The Northern Ireland Executive has said its priority remains keeping children and young people in school as it issued an update on the current Covid-19 situation.

In a joint statement on Thursday afternoon, Stormont ministers said that while no cases of the Omicron variant have yet been confirmed here, the situation is likely to change in the coming days.

They said: “Today we received an update from our medical and scientific advisers on the latest Covid-19 situation and, in particular, the emergence of the Omicron variant.

“The emergence of this new strain of the virus is a serious and concerning development worldwide. And while there is no need for alarm, it is vitally important that everyone redoubles their efforts to drive infection rates down.

“The evidence on the new variant is being very closely monitored. And our public health experts will continue to liaise with colleagues in other jurisdictions as the situation develops globally and locally.

“No cases of the Omicron variant have yet been confirmed here, but that situation is likely to change in the coming days. The public will be kept informed and health protection measures will be actioned as appropriate.”

Urging people to use this time wisely to drive Covid infection rates down, the Executive statement added: “It is still unclear whether the clinical impact of this new coronavirus variant will be more serious so it is essential that we take preventative action now.

“We are grateful to the public for how they have responded so far. People’s actions are already having an impact and we thank everyone for the steps they are taking.

“The effectiveness of the booster vaccination programme is evidenced in reduced hospital admissions; the large number of people coming forward for first dose vaccine in recent weeks will make a real difference; and the collective effort to adhere to the public health advice has helped in reducing the number of cases.

“We know what works. And as we approach Christmas, it is vital that we all continue to work together to keep our society open, protect our health service and save lives.”

We urge everyone to remain vigilant and play your part in slowing the spread of the virus by following these simple steps:

  • Get first and second vaccine doses, and get your booster when eligible- up to date information is available at nidirect.gov.uk/covidvaccine;
  • Limit your social contacts;
  • Meet outdoors when possible;
  • If meeting indoors, make sure rooms are well-ventilated;
  • Wear a face covering in crowded or indoor settings;
  • Work from home if possible;
  • Practise good hand and respiratory hygiene;
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate immediately and get a PCR test as soon as possible.

“We thank everyone for continuing to make safer choices that will help to protect you, your family and our society.”

Earlier this week, teaching unions called for a ‘circuit breaker’ to be introduced over the Christmas period to control the spread of Covid-19 infection in Northern Ireland’s schools.

In response, Stormont said today: “Our priority remains keeping our children and young people in school.

“We recognise the challenges being faced across all our educational settings and the work that teachers and all staff are doing at this difficult time to support young people.

“We will continue to work with all concerned to keep our schools open and safe.”

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Longer intervals between COVID-19 shots can increase immunity, Canadian study suggests – Maple Ridge News – Maple Ridge News

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University of B.C.-assisted research suggests waiting longer between first and second COVID-19 vaccination doses provides better immunity.

According to a press release, a peer-reviewed study with principal investigator Brian Grunau, UBC department of emergency medicine professor, found that “a longer dose interval (of mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna) leads to a stronger immune response.” The research, published Tuesday (Nov. 30), compared blood tests from 186 paramedics, some who received their shots in under the recommended four weeks and others who were vaccinated after six to seven weeks.

“We found significantly higher levels of antibodies in individuals who had longer vaccine intervals, and this was consistent regardless of which mRNA vaccine was administered,” Grunau said in the press release.

With half of the people in the world vaccinated, the research has “implications for the ongoing global vaccination effort,” stated the press release. Increasing time between doses could see better “long-term immune response” and lead to better “community-level access” to first vaccine shots, it said.

“This longer interval strategy enables early access to first doses in the population and ensuring the best protection possible with the two-dose series,” said Grunau.

People who participated in the study are part of the larger COVID-19 Occupational Risks, Seroprevalence and Immunity among Paramedics project, said the press release, a Canada-wide study looking at the pandemic’s effect on paramedics.

Research was funded by money from the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

According to the latest COVID-19 numbers from the health ministry, there were 375 new cases reported in the province and 88.4 per cent of eligible adults in the province have received two vaccine shots.

RELATED: B.C. calls on retired medical staff to help with COVID-19 vaccinations

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U.S. to not reimburse private health insurers for covering at-home COVID test costs

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The U.S. government will not reimburse private health insurance companies for covering the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests, a White House official said on Thursday.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act require coverage of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 without any cost-sharing requirements during the public health emergency,” the White House official said.

“The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will clarify that coverage of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests is generally subject to those provisions”, the official added.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, writing by Kanishka Singh)

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