Cancer patients are fighting two wars, not one anymore. A battle that is personal, and one they fight with us.
Cancer and COVID-19.
I walked into the room looking at her from behind a face-shield and covering my face with a filter. I felt like myself but she was scared. My patient was visibly frightened. I was a policeman in a riot. I was not Mo. She did not recognize me. With visitor restrictions she was alone no husband for support, no mother either. She started to cry. This is not the usual way my patients greet me.
Your scan is fine I said. That did nothing to relieve her fear. I talked and talked, I engaged, I pulled at every muscle in my brain to find a way to make her feel cared for and loved. I asked her to call her mother. She resisted. She was afraid that calling her mother would elicit a fear that something was wrong. I asked her to still call, reluctantly she did. Immediate relief set into the room once her mother was on the line.
I saw many things in this moment. I saw a frightened patient, frightened by me; and frightened for her mother. I saw love and isolation; courage and surrender; I saw bonds that are covalent and connections that are elusive, when broken they destroy the person facing the cancer war. We must go above the barriers that have been placed before us to deliver the intimate care we now don’t have.
I am sitting at home now.
We did not stop. Cancer providers of all kinds, the front line to helping the patients through the visit, the many precautions now being implemented to make sure they stay safe. The many different layers of vigilance we have to be aware of. It’s an amazing group that is filled with resolve, bravery, and kindness.
It’s that kindness, that still does not feel complete for that patient fighting this battle alone. That lonely patient sitting in a room filled with fear, that is the dread we all feel now. That we will die alone. That feeling is permeating all of us.
Death has never been such a communal affair. As a community, we stand with you. Our collective patience, compassion, and tolerance of this will get us through these very uncertain times.