CAPE CORAL, Fla -- When it comes to beating cancer, early detection is key. But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to put off preventative screenings and survivors say now is the time to catch back up.
That includes Cape Coral husband and wife George and Dorothy Rea. They are both head and neck cancer survivors who are speaking out during Head and Neck Cancer Awareness month.
They said two things helped them beat cancer: staying vigilant and taking advantage of free annual screenings offered in Southwest Florida.
“I was sitting at FGCU and a thing came up on my neck. I called my doctor. Immediately I was taken in, and I went through the cancer treatment,” recalled Dorothy about her diagnosis years ago.
Ever since she beat the cancer, Dorothy and George have walked for other patients in an annual 5K & 2-Mile walk. It will take place again April 24 at Jaycee Park in Cape Coral. Funds go toward providing more free screenings and helping people already battling cancer in the area.
During one year's event, George decided to get screened. It’s a decision he credits for saving his life.
“I went with her to the walk/run. It asked us if we wanted to have a screening. I said okay, fine. So I had it and they determined at that time I had head and neck cancer. It pretty much made it possible for me to quit smoking. I’m obviously pretty certain that it saved my life,” said George.
The 21st Century C.A.R.E. foundation hopes its free screenings will do the same for others.
This type of cancer is diagnosed in more than 50,000 people in the U.S. each year. The big thing is it's preventable and treatable, you just need to get screened.
Cancer organizations across the state say spreading awareness like this is important during the pandemic because it's caused many to put off preventative care.
The Promise Fund of Florida said it fears we're going to see cancers being discovered at later stages because of this.
“And of course all that's done is drive the incidents rate higher and potentially we're worried about the death rate because some of these early diseases are very aggressive, need to be found in the early state and then treated accordingly so we're kind of biting our fingernails waiting to see what's going to happen. We already know many more people are diagnosed than we anticipated at this time because they did miss their last screenings and do have cancers,” said Nancy Brinker, Co-founder of The Promise Fund of Florida.
Much like head and neck cancer, other cancers are highly survivable.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, cervical cancer has a 92% survival rate if caught early. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer that is detected early and in the localized stage is about 99%.