BALTIMORE (WJZ) — As hospitals focus on the immediate needs of coronavirus patients, patients battling cancer are facing a series of dilemmas.
Hospitals across the country are being forced to delay or cancel some medical procedures due to the surge of patients with COVID-19, resulting in some cancer patients seeing changes in how they’re getting care.
Velma Johnson, 63, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Her doctor said she needed to start treatment immediately since the cancer had already spread to her brain.
“I’m going to live life, and I believe I’m going to beat it because they’ve been telling me the cancer is shrinking,” Johnson said.
Johnson visits MedStar Franklin Cancer Center weekly to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
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“Chemotherapy lowers the immune system, meaning that it puts the patients at risk to get infections,” Dr. Mahsa Mohebtash, the center’s medical director, said.
Because of this, cancer patients are at greater risk of becoming ill and facing complications from COVID-19.
“We get lots of patients who have expressed their concerns about their ongoing chemotherapy treatment,” Mohebtash said. “They are asking if it’s really needed or not. In most cases, it is.”
Oncologists are also aware that stopping or canceling chemo for many patients could present more certain dangers.
“Most of the chemotherapy agents are infusional, so for that reason (a) patient has to come here to receive it because it cannot be given at home,” Mohebtash said.
To make sure patients and staff are safe, MedStar has moved to virtual visits where possible and has switched some IV treatments to pill form instead.
“This area will be less crowded for them so (there’s) less risk of getting infection,” Mohebtash said.
Johnson said she’s hopeful the community’s efforts to slow the virus’s spread will protect the most vulnerable.
“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” she said, “and we all have to get through it, and we have to help each other get through it.”