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Cancer treatments in Seattle carry on during coronavirus pandemic

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (SCCC, Facebook)

During a public health crisis, life doesn’t stop. While all of us have been affected by COVID-19 whether financially, socially, or by knowing someone who has contacted the virus, there’s another disease that has touched most people lives in some way: cancer.

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Even during the coronavirus pandemic, cancer patients still need care. Chief Nurse Executive and Vice President of Clinical Operations at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Terry McDonnell, joined KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show on Thursday. She said there are certainly challenges her team is facing, but she could not ask for a better staff in day 42 of their “incident command and response.”

“We’re facing similar challenges to everyone else,” McDonnell said. “Personal protective equipment is a big deal. Our patient population, a lot of what we do to our patients, we take down their immunity, so we’re very worried about screening and pre-testing. And we’re worried about keeping our staff safe.”

The diagnoses of cancer only adds to the challenges faced across the health care system.

For safety reasons, many screenings and other tests have been put on hold, which is a concern for SCCA.

“We do a lot of screening, colonoscopy, mammograms. We have a high-risk clinic where we monitor patients who’ve got family histories where they’re high-risk,” she said. “We have placed some priority away from routine screening. And what we’re trying to balance is when can we start to bring those activities safely back online so that patients aren’t putting off those … tremendously important screening activities for too long?”

Early diagnoses and treatment is critical for cancer patients, so if you have any concern, McDonnell said don’t put off that screening.

“Reach out to your health care provider,” she said. “We are all still open and providing care. If there’s a concerning lump, if there’s something that you feel, if you’ve got changes, reach out and we will prioritize those diagnostics and those screenings.”

According to the stay-at-home order issued by the governor, non-urgent, elective surgeries have been paused. McDonnell acknowledge this does not typically apply to anything related to cancer treatment. Additionally, visitations have been limited at hospitals and health care facilities, which she said was one of the hardest decisions to make early on in this pandemic.

“We place these patients in the hospital and they’re on protocols as it is to limit their exposure to infection and to not have that loved one next to you is hard. So we’ve all gotten really creative.”

Between setting up video calls for patients and their loved ones, health care professionals are doing their best to help their patients find the support that may be missing otherwise.

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“We’re trying to bring as much of that love virtually into the environment as we can,” she said. “But the other phenomenon, and again we’ve all experienced, and we’ve all seen the stories, when that loved one can’t be there to hold your hand, the person who is there to hold your hand is most likely a nurse, a doctor, a medical assistant, or one of the health care providers.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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