Engaged Patient

A Cancer Patient’s Perspective on the Pandemic; Updates From Dr. Bill Gardner

In a post published earlier this month, I mentioned Bill Gardner, Ph.D., as an example of a patient for whom diagnosis had been delayed by effects from the coronavirus pandemic on medical care. I also mentioned that Dr. Gardner, a contributing writer for the Incidental Economist blog, intended to report on his cancer experience in real time.

Photo by Soumil Kumar from Pexels

He has followed through with three posts in less than two weeks. As chair of child and adolescent psychiatry research and professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa and a child psychologist and health services researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Dr. Gardner has deep experience in medicine and ethics. He also is an engaged patient facing a serious disease in the midst of a pandemic and an experienced reporter.

In the first installment, “’I have serious news’: A cancer patient in the COVID-19 epidemic,” published on July 8, 2020, Dr. Gardner explains that, beyond telling his own story, he plans to write about the pandemic from the perspective of a cancer patient in treatment:

…being a cancer patient provides a point of view to analyze the global crisis. The pandemic is obstructing the care of many other conditions. I may end up becoming collateral damage of the coronavirus because COVID-19 delayed my diagnosis. Or was that a fault of Canadian medicine? If so, how ought we address it.

                                  *  *  *

I have spent much of my career studying health care systems, often from an ethics framework. Perhaps we can learn something from this.

In his second post, “Playing for real money. In which I meet my tumour,” Dr. Gardner focuses on clinical details and human papilloma virus, the likely cause of his cancer. He is both unflinching and humorous – “Let’s not be coy” – as he discusses the sexual activity that probably exposed him to HPV decades ago, during a very different viral epidemic. HPV can cause the cancer Dr. Gardner is dealing with and can be largely prevented with vaccination, which first became widely available in 2006.

In the third post, “Treating cancer: So many decisions” (July 21, 2020), Dr. Gardner lays out his treatment options and decision making process, which includes conversation with his wife, as well as three subspecialists. Complete with decision-tree charts, his description is clear and decisive.

I will continue to monitor the Incidental Economist blog for more news of Dr. Gardner’s experience through treatment and hopefully for many years to come. I also follow him on Twitter, where @Bill_Gardner’s comments are far-ranging. His voice is an important contribution to the growing chorus of engaged patients.



Susan Carr Susan Carr is a medical editor and writer specializing in patient safety and engagement. In addition to curating the EngagingPatients blog, she produces publications for the Betsy Lehman Center in Boston and the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. Susan lives and works in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

Susan Carr has 185 post(s) at EngagingPatients.org

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