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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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By trying to avoid contracting COVID-19, her cancer may have gone undetected

Tracy Bremmeyer Pauline Babineau.png
Posted at 2:09 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 14:10:38-04

PHOENIX (KNXV) -- Victims of the pandemic did not all catch COVID-19 and, now, a scenario doctors were concerned might happen, has. And it has devastated an Arizona daughter and her family.

Tracy Bremmeyer told KNXV her mother, Pauline Babineau, 61, died last week in Washington from Stage IV lung cancer, a mere three months after losing function in her hand and being diagnosed.

"She thought it was just more of a muscle injury," Bremmeyer said. "It progressed so fast in the days before, that by the time she went to the hospital, she had to be carried in because she couldn't walk."

Bremmeyer said doctors quickly discovered her mother had cancer.

"She ended up having four tumors in her brain, she had a nine-centimeter mass in her lungs," she said.

With the pandemic, her mom, who dealt with other health issues, worked to avoid COVID-19 at all costs. That meant not seeing family and no longer going to the doctor.

"I think that she was afraid to go to the doctor," Bremmeyer said. "It became the norm to not go to the doctor and nobody was going to force anybody to go. So that was the new normal, to not go."

When she finally was able to see her mom again -- the first time in more than a year and after she was hospitalized -- Bremmeyer noticed the physical changes.

"It was like she aged 20 years," Bremmeyer said. "She was frail, she couldn't walk really well."

Bremmeyer believes that because her mom did not see family and did not make those typical visits to the doctor, some of those potential early warning signs went unnoticed.

While she said her mom was largely asymptomatic earlier in the year, she had lost weight -- something she said those who did see her congratulated her on, given that many people gained weight throughout the pandemic.

What they did not know was that it was potentially a sign of a serious problem.

Had there not been a pandemic keeping people apart, Bremmeyer believes her mother's illness could have been caught sooner and perhaps led to a different outcome.

"I think it would have prolonged her life," Bremmeyer said. "Given how asymptomatic she was, I don't know she would have caught it in time to say, cure it, but I...would have made her go to the doctor."

Now, Bremmeyer hopes others are vigilant about their health -- lookout for concerning signs and to visit a doctor if needed.

Frank LoVecchio, a physician at Valleywise Health Medical Center, said he's seeing people show up to the hospital sicker and with illnesses that have advanced.

"We might ask them, you know, you waited like six months to come in for your abdominal pain and, unfortunately, now you have a tumor that's kind of spread," he said. "Or, now you had a heart attack and things got a little bit worse and there was more damage done that we could have avoided. A lot of them, almost universally, say 'it's because of the pandemic.'"

He urged people to seek out their necessary appointments, noting that hospitals and medical facilities are taking extra precautions -- and that the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available now.

"Right now is the time to make appointments for your checkups, to make appointments for your screening," Dr. LoVecchio said. "Please do it sooner rather than later."

That message is shared by Bremmeyer.

"Don't underestimate a sign or a symptom like that," she said, of her mom. "It could be just something that you thought you had tennis elbow, that's what [my mom] thought."

She hopes her story hits home for other families. The cruel irony in her mother's case is that by taking the extra precautions to avoid COVID-19, it allowed the cancer to hide and go undetected.

"I'm struggling, like, every day," Bremmeyer said. "I just almost want to tell my mind that it's not real."

This story originally reported by Mike Pelton on ABC15.com.