Battling stage 4 cancer, 27-year-old beats coronavirus

The New York City metropolitan area has been the epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It's not where Eliza Paris' Georgia-based family believed was the safest place to be for someone battling cancer.

So, Paris drove herself home to Georgia in late February, knowing her weakened immune system made it too risky to get on a plane.

The 27-year-old had been undergoing chemotherapy for months at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, after being diagnosed for the second time with metastatic appendix cancer.

Back in Atlanta, isolating at her parents' home, Paris felt like she was doing everything right.

"I stayed home, and I worked every day," she says. "I felt really safe.”

But, about a month after her return, in early April, Paris got very sick to her stomach.

“I thought maybe I was dehydrated, or something was going on with my treatment," Paris remembers.  "Then, then all of a sudden, the shortness of breath came along."

Her parents called an ambulance. 

She wouldn't see them again for eight days.

Paris ended up in the intensive care unit at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, where she seemed to be getting sicker by the hour.

"I had kidney failure," she says.  "I had sepsis. I had pneumonia."

Then, she tested positive for COVID-19.

It felt like history was repeating itself.

“When I was diagnosed at 25 with cancer, I had gone into the emergency room with, with a stomach ache by myself," she says.  "I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer by myself. And, I was diagnosed with COVID by myself.”

Her parents and brother had been by her side throughout her two cancer battles, a 23-hour surgery, and three weeks in the hospital.

Now, isolated in the ICU, she couldn't talk to them.

"I actually wasn’t given my cellphone until the fourth day," she says.

The hardest part was fighting to breathe.

"Not being able to catch your breath is a struggle like I haven't experienced," she says. "It was like fighting for your breath, and them putting oxygen on you and asking you, you know, if you had a living will, and if you want to be resuscitated."

She credits the Kennestone nurses and doctors with helping her survive the virus.

Eight days after she was admitted, Paris was able to go home.

“I wanted to just do cartwheels, and hug my nurses, and hug my family," she says.

Hugging her dad brought its own sweetness.

"When I hugged him, he was sobbing," she says.  "You know, I think just having to put your daughter in an ambulance, and then put your daughter's life in the hands of someone else', it's really hard as a parent, and I hated that for them.”

Eliza Paris is now back in Hoboken, New Jersey, where she is working from home.

She just received clearance from her oncologist at Sloan Kettering to restart chemotherapy on Friday, after a three-month break.

Paris feels like she can finally put this virus behind her, and concentrate on her cancer treatment.

Still, she knows she is vulnerable.

Paris is hoping her story will remind people to continue social distancing and wearing face masks in public.

"If I walked into a grocery store, you probably would not think I was immunocompromised, and I was going through everything that I've been through," Paris says. "But, that just shows you don't know what people are going through in their lives. So, you need to be extra cautious and hypersensitive.  We all need to work together as a community to get past this."