The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives in some way.
Like many Mainers, I enjoyed an active lifestyle before the outbreak. I worked part-time at my local gym. I regularly ate out with friends, and I attended community events and festivals.
As someone in their 70s who is living with cancer and actively undergoing treatment, I can’t take the risk of catching this virus.
Before the pandemic hit the U.S., I was dealing with my second recurrence of mesothelioma and struggling to get answers about what to do next.
From November through February, my life was a whirlwind of trips to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, phone calls with patient navigators and treatments that either failed to keep the cancer in my chest from growing or made me deathly ill.
With my hometown of Cornish about to partially reopen, I find the world changing around me because of the coronavirus. These truly are unprecedented times, but I’ve lived in an unprecedented world filled with confusion and anxiety for a while now.
As a cancer survivor, I realize that my No. 1 priority is protecting myself.
Cancer patients have compromised immune systems, putting us at high risk for viruses such as influenza and COVID-19.
People living with mesothelioma, in particular, are at high risk for COVID-19 because most of us are 65 and older and already dealing with respiratory issues such as shortness of breath and dry cough.
The risk increases if you are undergoing chemotherapy treatment or if you recently had an aggressive surgery.
A recent report revealed that 40 percent of cancer patients have postponed, missed or canceled regular appointments because of this pandemic.
The American Cancer Society recommends that “no one should go to a health care facility for routine cancer screening at this time.”
After getting on the phone and receiving some telemedicine advice from my doctors, I decided to travel to Boston on March 31 — my first time out of the house since my self-quarantine began earlier that month.
I started a new chemotherapy regimen with a reduced dose of the drug gemcitabine. After experiencing minor side effects, I returned to Boston April 7 for a second infusion.
Dana-Farber has taken every precaution to ensure patients are safe when attending appointments. Caregivers aren’t allowed to accompany you. No friends or family are allowed. If you are in a wheelchair or need assistance, a nurse will meet you outside to take you in.
They also gave me the option to wait in the back where I receive my infusions instead of sitting in the main waiting room.
These are the measures all cancer centers must take to ensure their patients are safe.
For myself and many other cancer patients, the risk of catching this deadly virus will remain a very real possibility unless we take the extra steps to protect ourselves.
Throughout the lockdown, I have relied on the help of others to ensure I could still get the groceries and supplies I needed day-to-day. This will have to continue.
I expect the coronavirus and its challenges will continue to be a regular topic of discussion in monthly cancer support group meetings for months to come as we all adapt to a new normal created by this pandemic.
Together, we’ll get through this.
Emily Ward of Cornish is a cancer survivor.