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Chemotherapy and The Pandemic

Hi Everyone,

In my last blog, I wrote about the unique fears Ovarian Cancer, and all Cancer patients, face during the Covid 19 pandemic. Constant fears of being exposed, and how your already compromised system will have the strength to battle the virus. Fears too, of having your Cancer act up, warranting treatment, and trips to the hospital, the very place none of us want to be.

This has happened for me. My Cancer has spread a bit, so I have started chemotherapy again. When I got the news, I was of course concerned about the spread of my Cancer, but my first fear was having to go to the hospital, and be exposed to so many patients, staff, and surroundings that could be carrying the virus. I felt frozen with fear, which was only overcome by my fear to leave my Cancer untreated. So, I steeled myself to face this next challenge. 

My husband Ken and I started by researching the Mass General website, to find out their protocols. We wanted to be totally familiar with what to expect before we went.  In the past, Ken has always been with me through everything – appointments, tests, infusions. Total teamwork, as Ken always lent his never-ending support. Now he would not be able to accompany me. He would need to drop me at the door and pick me up when I was finished. I would miss him terribly.

My infusions would need to be weekly. We would go every Wednesday, which helped us to work around our dialysis schedule (I have kidney disease from damage caused by a drug given to me for my Cancer). So, our schedule was set, and we were ready to begin treatment.

Needless to say, our first visit was filled with trepidation. What could I really expect? How would it be navigating everything alone? Would I be surrounded by the virus at every turn?  Ken pulled up to the entrance of MGH, and I reluctantly got out. I was armed with bacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, and my mask. I stood in front of the revolving entry door, thinking that I would not have to push on that, because it was automatic. One hurdle down. As soon as I stepped into the lobby, I was greeted with a masked guard (everyone in sight had masks on), who directed me to the check-in station. The floor was marked with six feet distanced spots. I stood on my X and waited.  When I got to the desk, they asked me my name. They had all my appointment info and told me where I needed to go. They gave me a mask. I needed to wear theirs, so I quickly switched from my mask, holding my breath as I did.  It was time to ride the elevator.

Fortunately, because of so many people doing teleconferences with their doctors, MGH is not as busy as it usually is. I pushed the up-elevator button with my elbow and waited. A few people gathered to ride to their floors.  Once we were on the elevator, people stayed apart, and everyone used their elbows to hit their floor numbers. 

When arriving at my floor, I was greeted by a nurse, who asked me a litany of questions about possible exposure, and symptoms. She took my temperature, gave me an all-clear sticker on my shirt, and off I went to the next stop. I checked in at my Oncologist’s office, was given a bracelet, and sat down. The chairs were separated, with many being turned backwards so you couldn’t use them. I chose a spot, and got out a wipe to wipe down my hands, and the chair arms. I was quickly called in. The nurse who called me in wiped down the chair I had been sitting in as soon as I got up. They were so thorough.

My appointment was really as it always is regularly, except that everyone was wearing a mask. My port access and bloodwork were the same, as was my Oncology meeting. When I left, I once again wiped my hands down, and headed to infusion. I followed the same elevator protocols. When I arrived at infusion, I was met with another nurse, who asked me the same questions as the last nurse and took my temperature. I was given the green light, and went in. When checking in, I was asked a series of questions that they normally give you a form to fill out for. But now there is no paper exchanged. Time to sit and wait, which was only a few minutes long.

Infusion was as it usually is, with the exception on everyone being masked. I know that they sanitize everything between patients, a practice that always happens. One of the differences with infusion was that none of the services I normally take part in – music therapy, acupuncture, massage – were being offered. Pandemic casualties.

When I finished my treatment, I texted Ken, and met him down in the lobby. He had checked in at the greeting desk so he could be there when I came down. He was given a mask and was shown where to wait.

So now we know what to expect and have our new routine down. I cannot say enough about MGH, and the protocols they have in place. It is very reassuring. I felt very safe. So, for any of you who have to face treatment during these trying times, know that you can do it, and that your infusion/treatment center, like MGH, will be using best practices, and will walk you through everything, with your safety as their priority.

‘Til Next Time,

MJ Keenan