COVID-19 strain on healthcare puts UNLV Professor’s battle with cancer in jeopardy

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UNLV professor Michael Kagan shares how the COVID-19 strain has put his cancer surgery on hold. Photo Courtesy of NevadaForward.com

After brushing a lump on his neck, a mass the size of a ping pong ball on a professor’s neck erupted. UNLV law professor and Director of Immigration Clinic Michael Kagan discovered in February that cancer had burrowed under his skin, travelling into the lymph nodes found under his neck.

Tedious tests, appointments and run-ins with medical bureaucracy may now dominate his foreseeable future. Kagan expected all of this to a degree and believed in the first-phase of an improved treatment plan for his cancer.

“It moves slower than medical dramas on TV,”  Kagan said.

The elective surgery set to remove the mass from Kagan’s body by UNLV Department Chair of Head and Neck Surgery Oncology Robert Wang was scheduled for Aug. 4, followed by immunotherapy. 

What he did not expect was the spike of COVID-19 cases and the resulting hospitalizations across the country despite vaccine availability. This is primarily fueled by unvaccinated Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The demand for hospital beds in Nevada resulted in the cancelation of several elective surgeries, like Kagan’s scheduled surgery. 

“You can’t say ‘this guy died because he was two weeks too late,’” Kagan said. “The cancer is growing in my neck, and every day is an added risk.”

Elective surgeries have been in limbo since COVID-19 began.

The fourth wave that remains at its peak in Nevada, as of writing this article, is what caused a lack in available recovery beds at Mountain View Hospital. This has resulted in the hospital administration postponing elective surgeries due to the rise of the delta variant. 

“Many people have asked me if I feel angry, I’m not,” Kagan said. “I feel sad. I want people to be less sick.” 

Kagan began sharing his story publicly to move the conversation from COVID-19 to the effect the virus has on people. He expresses that vaccinations have a community benefit, and it should not be an individual choice.

Kagan’s surgery was postponed until Aug. 18, more than half a year since he first felt the lump under his skin. The surgery was a success, and he is expected to continue with immunotherapy treatment. He credits Wang and the UNLV Medical Clinic, which first alerted him to his cancer.

The Nevada Board of Health, in an emergency meeting on Aug. 20, determined NSHE students are required to prove vaccination for COVID-19, along with the list of vaccines they originally required.

Kagan held conflicted views on the emergency meeting. 

“On the one hand, better late than never is certainly true here,” Kagan said. “On the other hand, the leaders of higher education in Nevada diverted, diffused and deflected responsibility.”

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