Getting Treatment During a Pandemic

A cancer survivor describes the changes of going for treatment during the pandemic.

I have incurable cancer, which means that I am continuously on one kind of treatment or another. The cancer center where I receive my treatments has been part of my life for ten years and is just like going to the grocery store or drugstore for me.

My treatment regimen has changed over those ten years. Originally, I went once a month to see the doctor when I was on oral chemo. Later, I went in 5 days a week every month to receive shots. I am presently going in weekly for shots to keep up my white blood cells to resist infection. I have been through major changes at the cancer center. Two different practices merged at the same time we had a computer update, and it was chaos for a while.

A few weeks ago all the chemo treatments for infusion and chemo were combined on one big floor. I am on the Patient Advisory Council and have been excited about planning for a brand new cancer center, so we will be moving again in a couple of years. I find this all exciting and fun.

Through all of this there have been two wonderful constants. My fantastic oncologist has kept me alive and supported me every inch of the way. The second one is the great oncology nurses and hospital staff.

I am convinced oncology nurses are angels without wings. I have met many of them throughout the years. They are different ages, gender, sizes and personalities. But their caring and dedication are utterly amazing.

However, never in all these times have I been through a pandemic. At first, the changes were gradual. The “non-essential” surgeries were postponed. I usually park at a valet entrance. On more than one occasion, I have complained to management about the long waits to get my car, because they were so rushed and overwhelmed. I only mentioned this so things would improve at the new cancer center.

The hospital was crowded and every room was full. I would see people I knew in the hallways and often run into former students and friends in the waiting room for the doctor, either for treatment themselves or with a loved one.

I got a hint of what was about to happen when I walked in one day and all the valet people were sitting down, with no cars out front. The cheery volunteer I called “Mr. Sunshine” was missing. I jokingly told the valet people, who I know by now, that never in ten years, have I seen any of them sitting down. They just laughed and said they did not remember either!

The following week, it seemed like the entire world shut down. I received a call from the doctor’s office that valet services were no longer there, but some parking spots nearby were freed up, so I did not have to walk too far to get into the hospital.

The next day I entered the hospital and the only word I can use to describe it was eerie. When I walked through the doors, I was immediately stopped and my temperature was taken, they asked to see my driver’s license and took my phone number. I was asked the COVID-19 protocol questions, which included whether I had a cough, had been around anyone who was ill or been out of the country. I then had to wash my hands before I could proceed to the oncology floor.

The coffee shop I love no longer has seating, and the chairs are turned upside down. I walk down the hall and often am the only one. There are no visitors, just an occasional patient or staff person. The rules changed from it being my choice to wear a mask to be a requirement.

Now, on the infusion floor where I receive my shots, things are silent.

Some people have decided not to come for their treatments because they are afraid of this horrible virus. I notice fewer patients and more time to talk to the staff. But, what remains the same is the constant dedication and love of the oncology nurses.

They worry about going home to their families after working there all day, but know they were needed. They are worried about the patients who no longer come, and whether their cancers will get worse. They help me out with my struggling blood counts, and act like I am their only patient. They are tolerant as we wait each week for the blood results. They are angels!

My doctor continues to see me frequently, because she knows how important it is, no matter what happens. All of the people on the front lines, doctors, nurses, lab technicians, phlebotomists, nurse’s aides, clerical and housekeeping are all there because they care. We should thank them every single day for risking their lives and families for us. Even a major pandemic will not stop their professionalism, dedication and caring and we can be forever grateful for that.