Helping cancer patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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In an effort to offer hope, comfort and knowledge to cancer patients during the COVID-19 crisis, Rochester’s GRYT Health has drawn leading experts to a virtual table. 

Each Saturday through the period of social distancing, the company, in partnership with the American Association of Precision Medicine, will connect the global cancer community currently dealing with the coronavirus. 

The pandemic presents challenges for oncology treatment services. Not only must caregivers minimize patient exposure to hospitals, infection can pose a great risk, especially since COVID-19 currently does not have a cure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 650,000 cancer patients receive chemotherapy in an outpatient clinic nationwide. More than 1.8 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, the American Cancer Society says.

David Fuehrer, president and CEO of GRYT Health, says cancer patients are at a fivefold increased risk of mortality from COVID-19, making the need for education vital. The Rochester Beacon posed some questions to Fuehrer. His answers are below.

ROCHESTER BEACON: GRYT recently was a co-organizer of “Cancer and COVID-19.” What was the event about?

DAVID FUEHRER: In 2019, GRYT Health (“grit”) created the first-ever Global Virtual Cancer Conference. This industry-first virtual event brought together 100 speakers, sponsors and exhibitors to provide access to resources and education for more than 3,000 cancer patients in 57 different countries. We could never have imagined in October 2019 what the world would soon face with the COVID-19 crisis. Cancer patients are isolated and currently at a fivefold increased risk of mortality from COVID-19. The need to support connection, education and access to experts has never been more urgent or significant for the global cancer community than it is now facing COVID-19.

In response to that need, GRYT Health partnered with the American Association for Precision Medicine. As experts in oncology, GRYT brings the expertise and its global platform to create the Cancer and COVID Live Interactive Series. You can learn more and register for free at: https://grythealth.com/coronavirus

ROCHESTER BEACON: You managed to attract a host of experts. Why did you decide to organize it?

David Fuehrer

FUEHRER: Each Saturday through April and extending throughout this period of social distancing, we will host a live, interactive session with a multidisciplinary panel of experts. Last Saturday, April 4, the panel included an intensive care unit physician treating patients with COVID, the clinical trial coordinator for Stanford Cancer Institute, and a cancer patient facing COVID. These sessions are designed to provide expert insights as the diagnosis and treatment of COVID progress, and to give the global cancer community the opportunity to ask questions and interact with these experts—and with each other

ROCHESTER BEACON: What kind of response did the event receive? Do you plan to organize more of them?

FUEHRER: For our first Global Virtual event in October 2019, more than 3,000 cancer patients and caregivers from around the world participated. For this Cancer and COVID Global Virtual series we anticipate 5,000 cancer patients and caregivers will participate—though we on pace to greatly exceed that. Please spread the word so anyone facing cancer and their families, the health care providers and everyone affected can join us. It is 100 percent free and 100 percent online, so you can join from wherever you are most comfortable.

GRYT has secured a partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb to provide funding for these events. Seattle Genetics, Amgen, Syneos Health, TrialScout and many other pharmaceutical and health care organizations work with GRYT to ensure the cancer patients they treat and care for have access to the resources, education and clinical trial treatments. 

ROCHESTER BEACON: Since the globe is busy grappling with the coronavirus outbreak, not much has been spoken about its impact on cancer survivors or those undergoing treatment. Some patients are fearful of contracting the virus during treatment. What are your thoughts as it relates to this patient population? What would you say to them?

FUEHRER: As a two-time cancer survivor and an oncology researcher, I’m in this with you. Going through cancer can be overwhelming. Now we’re dealing with COVID on top of that. When I was going through treatment, I didn’t get to see the health care providers, scientists, researchers and everyone who works so hard and with such passion to increase survival for people facing cancer. That is our mission with GRYT Health; we work with half of the Top 10 pharmaceutical companies to increase the survival and quality of life for people facing cancer, through a compassionate approach to connection and education.

During this period of isolation and a rapidly evolving understanding of the testing and treatment of COVID, we are here with GRYT to provide connection, education and access to the resources to help you manage your health and well-being. It is an honor to do this work every day. 

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

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