Eliza Paris is only 27 years old and has already been through a series of health crises that have almost taken her life.
Paris was diagnosed with stage IV appendix cancer in 2018, when she was 25. She underwent aggressive treatment, including removal of her appendix, gallbladder, spleen, ovaries, and part of her colon, as well as 12 rounds of chemotherapy.
The treatment worked; for several months, she appeared to be cancer-free.
But then it came back.
So Paris returned to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to resume chemotherapy. Every other week, she gets a chemo drip for 48 hours, and it’s a treatment that she’ll likely need to continue in some way or another for the rest of her life.
However, in March, she was forced to stop her chemotherapy treatments. The coronavirus had begun to ravage New York City, and Paris was at a high risk for being hard-hit by the virus because she was immunocompromised.
“I thought I’d tackled everything I could tackle in my lifetime, and then comes a pandemic where I live in New York City, in the epicenter,” Paris said.
Unable to get treatment in NYC (and not wanting to stay somewhere that was a hot spot for the virus), Paris traveled to her parents’ house in Atlanta. She normally works on Wall Street, but she was able to to work from home while spending time with her family.
But then, after almost a month in Atlanta, Paris started to experience pain in her stomach and collapsed. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with both COVID-19 and sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body over-responds to an infection, and it can damage multiple organ systems.
Paris had to undergo emergency kidney surgery.
“I was in sepsis, I was in kidney failure, and I didn’t have any oxygen,” she said. “I had the trifecta. I was also trying to advocate for myself, to say, ‘Listen, I’m not your normal 27-year-old woman. I have cancer.’”
Paris was in the ICU for eight days, hovering near death. But she recovered, and was able to return to her parents’ house. Then, at the end of April, she returned to New York City to continue her chemo treatments at Sloan Kettering.
“I think once you’ve gone through what I’ve been through you have a new perspective on life and you’re just so grateful for every day,” she told NBC Today. “The days that you feel well, you just want to tackle the day and I try to continue to be a normal 27-year-old.”
Many cancer patients are still waiting to resume treatment all over the United States. According to a survey by the American Cancer Society in early April, one in four cancer patients had a delay in their treatment — and half of them didn’t know when treatment would be rescheduled.
Alarmingly, cancer diagnoses themselves have plummeted. This could be disastrous for patients and have a lasting impact, as an early diagnosis can often help result in better outcomes.
“Cancer has not taken a vacation,” said Dr. Lisa DeAngelis, the chief medical officer at Sloan Kettering. “It hasn’t been sheltering in place. It’s been doing what it does, which is develop and, unfortunately, grow.”
“We have to all figure out how to coexist with [the coronavirus], to take care of people who are affected by the coronavirus, but also take care of their cancer,” said DeAngelis. “That’s the mantra right now.”
Learn more in this video.