Hurricane Madness for Cancer Patients


The flood in Texas is causing strife for thousands of people. But patients with cancer have additional stressors.

I live in Dallas and, like the rest of the country, have been watching what is being called the largest natural disaster ever in Texas. Thousands of Houston residents face extreme flooding. I was glued to the television the past few days, watching Texans come to the aid of their neighbors or complete strangers. I hope it won’t get as bad as it did when Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. With Katrina, there was a mass exodus that filled hotels from New Orleans to Oklahoma as the storm moved west toward Houston.

I remember seeing people camped along I-45 just south of Dallas when they ran out of options for housing and gas — with no money for either one. I had one friend who adopted a family camped not far from his house. Many ended up with friends and family in other states.

I anticipate Harvey to be this bad since it is now returning for a second hit, but aside from the general population, I hurt for cancer patients who are having to cope with waist high-water and cancer at the same time.

They will be missing appointments and treatments that could be critical. MD Anderson, the huge regional cancer center near downtown, put out a statement on Monday saying the main building and several satellite locations were closed through Tuesday at a minimum. Even if they are open, can patients get there with the flooding on the highways?

And when it comes to priorities, I would have to say that it must be hard to focus on the potential outcome of cancer when you are looking at water pouring in your front door. Besides, the phones don’t work and the power is out. If I were a doctor, I would be hard pressed to scold a patient for missing a treatment.

And what should happen for patients? Do they call the treatment center to check in when the water finally begins receding? Many of the patients at MD Anderson have come from other states and even international locations, meaning they have few family or friends to fall back on for support in Houston.

I cannot imagine a worse situation.

Except it is because many of the cancer patients are taking part in clinical trials. MD Anderson is a research hospital where many patients are on clinical trials that need to be followed to provide answers about new drugs or approaches, making this a situation that will also go on impacting cancer for all of us.

I remember reading about the loss of clinical data when Katrina hit. Much of the data was lost due to the storm. I hope that other cancer centers learned a lesson from this tragedy, and something like this does not happen again in Texas.

In addition to patients, doctors and nurses are also affected by the flooding, and I recall one of the strangest outcomes of Katrina was patients who were permanently displaced trying to find a new oncologist in the city where they landed. I heard more than one horror story of patients who didn’t know what kind of cancer they had or what treatment they were receiving. Seems hard to believe, but in some cases the patients didn’t know their doctor’s names.

Can you imagine the scenario of a patient calling a cancer center and telling the operator that he or she has cancer but they don’t know where it is or how they are being treated?

Bless them all, and let's hope the water recedes quickly.

Related Videos
Image of a man with a beard.
Image of a man with gray facial hair and a navy blue suit with a light orange tie.
Image of a woman with black hair.