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APRIL seventeen, 2020 — Right now I built my way by our vacant clinic and into the again, where by I sat with my team. Scanning my schedule, I saw two one-hour visits: persons with a new cancer prognosis.

Most cancers in no way received the COVID-19 memo. It was not following any continue to be-at-home orders it was continue to disrupting people’s life, as ever, and my role in aiding them make feeling of this lifestyle-switching prognosis was not halting either.

Since coming to Lifespan Most cancers Institute, I have taken on a new program as guide health-related oncologist for sarcoma. The good thing is, I have a great mentor in Brad DeNardo, MD, a pediatric oncologist who specializes in it, significantly in the adolescent and young adult population. Together we commenced a sarcoma multidisciplinary clinic and we see patients alongside one another at the time a thirty day period. Right now we had various with sarcoma to see alongside one another a single was a individual who had undergone a very difficult surgical treatment and was recovering in a nursing home.

I turned momentarily alarmed. In Rhode Island, as in other parts, nursing properties and other group settings are large-hazard parts for an infection, and most of our COVID-19 deaths were being taking place in this extremely susceptible section of our population.

I anxious that this affected person may well have it. Even if he had no signs and symptoms, we could not rule out that he was an asymptomatic carrier. Still, we were not about to cancel the appointment. I alerted my team that our new affected person would be coming from a nursing home and that we all would need to safeguard ourselves.

Our normal has been to put on a surgical mask, but I wondered irrespective of whether Brad and I necessary much more. Shouldn’t we have private protecting devices (PPE) in buy to conduct the take a look at?

Like many institutions, even so, we way too are rationing PPE to parts where by they were being most necessary, in particular for staff members concerned in “aerosol-making” processes like intubation, where by the hazard for an infection is tremendously greater.

The good thing is, the cancer institute has its have supply of PPE, and right after a single inquiry we were being furnished with it for this take a look at, while not without caveats. “There are robes, gloves, experience shields, and surgical masks,” our stellar health-related assistant knowledgeable us. “The experience protect you will need to preserve safe—it’s the only a single you will get.”


All of a unexpected I felt as if I was holding onto one thing much more precious than gold. But I was also struck by how strange that was to listen to. Sounding a good deal like my mom, I replied, “I recall working towards when you used the experience protect at the time and then disposed of it.” We both of those appeared at every single other and chuckled, recognizing that this had been the condition of affairs not ten several years back but just 2 months back.

Gowned and gloved, we went in to see the affected person. In usual situations, Brad or I would sit near by him, inquiring what he knew about his prognosis. Then we would meticulously explain the variation involving quality and phase, the role of health-related treatment options, and the importance of surgical treatment. I might lean in to speak intimately about his prognosis, and if necessary, gently area my hand on his shoulder as we spoke.

Now we stood six ft away, faces lined, and elevated our voices to make positive we were being listened to by the levels of protection in entrance of us. Although our affected person also wore a mask, his eyes conveyed fear—not of COVID-19 but of cancer.

We built a plan: no chemotherapy we would repeat imaging in 2 or three months and see where by we were being. Ideally by then he would be home and the pandemic would be previous its peak. Afterwards, I put my mask in a plastic bag, labeled it with my name in major, bold letters, and set it away. I believed about locking it up in my cupboard, as if it were being one thing of great price, but then I convinced myself that I was overreacting. After all, it’s not like it was brand name new!

Later on that working day I fulfilled with anyone whom I have handled for the improved part of a calendar year. She had an intense tumor, a single that I believed she wouldn’t endure. But right after various months of chemotherapy, she had thriving surgical treatment and was in the middle of adjuvant procedure when COVID-19 turned an problem. Her routine called for admission to the healthcare facility. At the time, we had talked about the pros and disadvantages of continuing procedure versus not. Even with the hazard for an infection, we were being much more terrified of relapse, so we decided to complete it.


We were being reviewing the details of her upcoming admission when I realized that because of to a modify in insurance policies, she necessary COVID-19 tests ahead of admission. She fully understood, inquiring, “Can I get tested these days?”

I failed to know. Our evolving plan necessary tests no much more than 24 hours ahead of a planned admission, irrespective of whether anyone had signs and symptoms or not, so there would be no tests these days. We built preparations for her to return at a selected time for quick screening. But I asked myself, what occurs then?

If she tests negative, the admission would obviously move forward. But what if she tests constructive? She would not be admitted to our inpatient cancer assistance in its place, she would either be admitted to a COVID-19–positive floor or would need to go home and quarantine. In either situation, would procedure be delayed? And due to the fact she was asymptomatic, could not she get her chemotherapy, which was being provided to remedy her of cancer?

I failed to imagine so. It positive failed to seem like administering chemotherapy to anyone with COVID-19 was a fantastic thought. But by not proceeding with procedure, we could be lowering her opportunity of remedy. Would she have the alternative to move forward or not? There were being so many issues and no responses.

“Properly, let us get you tested, due to the fact we need to,” I advised her. “For now, I will think that the take a look at is negative, and we will move forward specifically as we planned, okay?”

“All right,” she reported.

She asked no other issues and I volunteered no further advice. I know that a single of my roles in the life of my patients is to deliver hope, and this is what I preferred her to have, correct now. I can only hope that I am correct.

Don S. Dizon, MD, is an oncologist who specializes in women’s cancers. He is the director of women’s cancers at Lifespan Most cancers Institute and director of health-related oncology at Rhode Island Hospital.


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