Coronavirus News: Long Island woman deals with cancer diagnosis amid COVID-19 pandemic

MASSAPEQUA PARK, Long Island (WABC) -- Things are hectic on a good day with Maria Cassano's four kids, but when the 39-year-old from Massapequa Park learned she had a rare appendix cancer, it was devastating.

And then, the coronavirus pandemic happened.

"Every day that goes by when you have cancer, in your head, just feels like, it's growing," Cassano said. "Get it out. That was my main concern."

Her initial surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering was cancelled as doctors scrambled to prioritize cases.

"I couldn't breathe," Cassano's mother Mary Pallotta said via Skype on what it was like not knowing whether her daughter could have the surgery at first. "Everything was surreal."

However, her mom stayed positive, and doctors at the hospital moved mountains to make Cassano's surgery happen just a week late.

"She was fortunate that she was at a hospital where she could go ahead and have her surgery," MSKCC Surgical Oncologist Doctor Garrett Nash said. "And thankfully her stage came back as a very favorable one."

Still, Dr. Nash said he's only doing about 20 percent of his scheduled cancer surgeries right now -- and keep in mind, Memorial Sloan-Kettering is a specialized hospital faring better than most.

Some in the medical community are very concerned that a second wave of deaths, not from COVID-19, but from other life-threatening illnesses that might go untreated.

It was also a struggle for Cassano because a pandemic means the patient goes in for surgery by themselves.

"The whole experience of my husband dropping me at the front door, it was so devastating," Cassano said. "I hugged him and kissed him, and it was like, 'Wow, I'm really doing this alone.'"

With so much riding on a quick recovery, Cassano is luckier than most.

Dr. Nash says there are many cancer patients who can still have alternative therapies like chemo and radiation to buy more time, but the question is how much time until things are back to normal again?

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