How cancer treatment and support changed during the COVID-19 pandemic

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“No one fights alone.”

That was Jennifer Cartlidge’s mantra all last year when the 47-year-old was diagnosed and treated for stage 2 breast cancer.

She wore this mantra on a personalized bracelet whenever she had chemotherapy treatment. Her two best friends made bracelets with the mantra to wear whenever Cartlidge had treatment and texted her pictures.

Treating cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic can be a lonely place, but Cartlidge has found ways to bring in friends and family and found connection in virtual support groups.

“The pandemic has really isolated the survivors,” says Jeannine O’Deens, executive director of Susan G. Komen in Austin, central Texas and east Texas. “They must have been in an oncologist’s office and heard they had breast cancer without their husbands there. It’s not the same as having someone next to each other.”

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Fight that one feeling

When Cartlidge officially received his diagnosis in mid-March 2020, Texas had just closed its doors for COVID-19. Hospitals barred visitors, except caregivers of children or adults with illnesses such as dementia. Treatment centers and doctor’s offices have also limited the number of people who can pass through their doors, mainly limiting access to patients.

“I felt a bit alone in this whole process,” says Cartlidge. “Normally you would have people by your side for everything. There were dates where I had to do it alone.”

The doctor’s appointments were also different, with recordings with his doctor and nurses via telehealth and online chats. “I haven’t met the oncologist in person for several months,” she says.

Her friends or family members had to drop her off at the entrance to a hospital or treatment center when she presented alone for in-person procedures.

She says that normally she would have been the patient who invited friends over and made the chemo a party.

Susan Davis finishes shaving the head of her stepdaughter Jennifer Cartlidge.  Davis then shaved his head to support Cartlidge, who was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

During the pandemic, she did each treatment while sitting alone in an IV chair. Social distancing safety measures meant that she and other patients receiving chemotherapy were kept isolated from each other.

Her only interaction was with the nursing staff, who became like an extended family. “It’s really about the staff who are there,” she said.

When her chemotherapy port was infected in July 2020 during a COVID-19 outbreak, she was alone in the hospital for three days.

During treatment, she was also immunocompromised, which meant that she had to isolate herself in her home. People would drop things off or she would talk to them from a distance.

As people got vaccinated and we learned more about COVID-19, some of the early restrictions relaxed. Texas Oncology’s Dr Caroline Coombs-Skiles said hospitals now allow a family member to accompany a patient before surgery, and Texas Oncology now allows a family member or friend to come with a patient during an appointment.

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The only time Jennifer Cartlidge was able to have her husband, Mike Wiesman, by her side during chemotherapy was after his last treatment when she rang the doorbell.

When those visitors were restricted, Coombs-Skiles followed with a phone call to the family member a patient wanted her to call to share information about the diagnosis and upcoming surgery.

Telemedicine, however, has opened up options as even more family members can attend patient appointments as long as the patient agrees. Coombs-Skiles says that “if anything good can come from COVID, telemedicine is one of it.”

She says this has revolutionized how she can share results and how often patients can connect with her to ask questions, as well as how she can connect them to available resources, including pivot nurses and nurses. support groups.

“It helps to know that they are not alone,” says Coombs-Skiles. “There are resources they can tap into.”

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Amy Evans, left, and Amy Harvey, right, helped support their friend Jennifer Cartlidge, including hosting her Team Double Bubbles Walk last year to support Susan G. Komen.

Build your personal army

Cartlidge has found ways to build her network of supporters and live out that “No one fights alone” mantra.

Friends Amy Harvey and Amy Evans continued to send in pictures of them wearing their bracelets on chemo days.

Nurses at Baylor Scott & White Cancer Center in Round Rock made an exception and crept in on her husband, Mike Wiesman, so he could be with her to ring the bell for his latest chemotherapy treatment.

Her mother-in-law, Susan Davis, told her, “When you lose your hair, I’m going to shave your hair with you.” She kept her promise. She shaved Cartlidge’s hair first, then hers.

“It’s those little things that suffocate you,” Cartlidge says.

Davis also came to stay with Cartlidge for two months after her double mastectomy last October. “She would take me for walks to the edge of the driveway and back,” Cartlidge said, because that’s what Cartlidge had the energy to do.

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Her husband Mike Wiesman, left, and mother Susan Davis and husband Ron Davis all shaved their heads to support Jennifer Cartlidge during her cancer treatment

Use cancer support groups

As great as her friends and family were, Cartlidge needed the support of women who had been there before her.

She joined the Calls to Survivors of the Susan G. Komen Virtual Support Group. There, she learned tricks like sucking a drop of lemon to get the metallic taste of chemotherapy out of your mouth and putting ice packs on your hands and feet to prevent neuropathy.

“A lot of what you need to do when you go through chemo just sucks,” says Cartlidge. “The support group calls were huge for me. It gave me a point of connection.”

Before the pandemic, these groups met in person every few weeks. “You could get a physical hug,” Cartlidge says. Now it’s virtual.

Through these calls, she heard about women who had lived with cancer two and three times. “It was super reassuring and heartwarming,” she says. “I can get out of this. It’s not a death sentence.”

All of Susan G. Komen’s support continues to be online, but O’Deens says, “There are positives. It extends our reach to women and supporters who may not have had the bandwidth. to succeed.”

Even after the pandemic is over, O’Deens says she believes the nonprofit will continue to offer virtual support groups, as people who don’t live nearby can still participate and feel connected. .

Last year, Team Double Bubbles participated in the More Than Pink Walk by walking in a park near Jennifer Cartlidge's house.  This year, she hopes to do the walk in person.

Celebrate the end of chemo

Last September, when Susan G. Komen was hosting a virtual walk in Austin, Cartlidge remembered her sorority walking while she was at the University of the University of Texas.

She called Harvey and Evans and asked them if this would be something they would do with her. Much like when they showed up at her door 30 minutes after she told them about her diagnosis, they showed up and helped plan a celebration for Cartlidge at their local park. They called in a philanthropic group at Cedar Park High School who were looking for a project during the pandemic. Twenty people marched with Cartlidge while others held up support signs, blew bubbles and celebrated it with a champagne toast.

Her husband named their team “Double Bubbles” after a reference to breasted Cheech and Chong. It had to be “Double Bubbles,” she said, “after all he’s done to support me. He couldn’t be there for so much.”

The Double Bubbles team will be back for this year’s Susan G. Komen More than Pink Walk, which will be both in-person and virtual.

“No one fights alone,” says Cartlidge. “I really understood that I am not really alone. There are resources, people who support you, even if they cannot physically be there. “

Get your cancer screenings

“One of the downsides of (the pandemic) is that people have stopped getting screened,” says Dr. Caroline Coombs-Skiles of Texas Oncology. This includes mammograms, colonoscopies, and annual doctor visits.

Testing centers are open with COVID-19 security measures.

Doctors fear cancers that could have been detected in 2020 are now captured a year later and potentially at a more advanced stage.

“It’s going to affect breast cancer statistics for at least the next decade,” Coombs-Skiles said.

More cancer resources

Breast Cancer Resource Center, a local support and resource network, bcrc.org

Texas Oncology Resource Page, texasoncology.com/cancer-centers/austin-area/cancer-resources

Concerning Cancer, a local network of support and resources, concerningcancer.org

American Cancer Society, cancer.org

Carebox Program, which helps people with cancer with the necessary supplies, programmecarebox.org

Susan G. Komen More Than Pink Walk

9:00 a.m. on October 24 virtually and at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive

Register for the walk or find resources at komen.org/community/texas/austin-and-central-and-east-texas/

Other funding programs from Susan G. Komen

Baby A’s will donate part of the proceeds from items on its pink menu to the association throughout the month of October.

Camp Gladiator sells a Support the Cause t-shirt and 50% of the proceeds will be donated.

The Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen will donate 10% of sales on October 18.

Austin Eastciders will give part of the sales on October 24.

Kendra Scott initiatives against breast cancer

20% of the sales of the Shop for Good Breast Cancer Awareness collection to kendrascott.com goes to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For every piece purchased from this collection, Kendra Scott donates a special rose quartz piece of jewelry with a handwritten note to a woman living with cancer

Kendra Scott will be hosting a Kendra Gives Back event at the Domaine from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on October 20. 20% of sales will go to Susan G. Komen. On kendrascott.com, buyers can also use the code GIVEBACK-ATICF when checking out on October 20-21.


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