Eliza Paris was partway through a round of chemotherapy in March, when the new coronavirus, COVID-19, was spreading in New York City. The 27-year-old has Stage 4 appendix cancer, and as an immunocompromised person the best course of action at the time was to stop her treatments to reduce her risk of getting COVID-19.
"I thought I'd tackled everything I could have tackled in my lifetime, and then comes a pandemic where I live in New York City, in the epicenter," Paris told NBC News.
This was already Paris’ second round with appendix cancer — she was first diagnosed in 2018, and underwent radical surgery to remove her appendix, gallbladder, spleen, ovaries and part of her colon. That appeared to successfully rid her body of the cancer, but it came back a year later.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said.
Paris, who works on Wall Street, started going back to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC every other week for 48-hour long chemotherapy drips. But when COVID-19 reached the city and her treatments stopped, she drove down to her parents’ house in Atlanta to work from home with her family.
Then, 25 days into her stay in Atlanta, Paris started experiencing stomach pain and fainted. After being rushed to the hospital, she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sepsis, requiring 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.’ ”
After a difficult eight days in the intensive care unit that left her near-death, Paris recovered from COVID-19.
"It was a very overwhelming experience," she said. "But, you know, when I think back to it, I don't think about all of that. All I think about was how hard I was trying to catch my breath."
Once Paris tested negative for COVID-19, she was able to go home. And at the end of April, she drove 14 hours up to NYC to resume her chemotherapy.
“I’m ready to get back to fighting cancer after fighting COVID, and I know that Sloan Kettering is the best place to do it, despite it being in the epicenter,” she told host Craig Melvin on the 3rd Hour of Today on April 29.
Paris has since finished her most recent round of chemotherapy, and is staying positive.
“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 Melvin. “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.”
Paris is also urging Americans to protect each other — especially those like her who are immunocompromised — and slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks.
“If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re harming others,” she said. “So if we could just come together and social distance, and wear masks and gloves, we can get through this together. As permanent as this is for those of us that are immunocompromised, this can be temporary for the rest of us — we just have to follow the guidelines.”
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