How COVID-19 has changed region's cancer care
How COVID-19 has changed region's cancer care
Catching up on rescheduled appointments won't be a problem, says Grand River's VP of cancer services
Carmen Groleau · CBC News ·
Accessing cancer care at the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre looks and feels different, due to COVID-19, with new physical distancing guidelines in place and some treatments being deferred or changed to keep patients safe.
"The hospital is so quiet," said Joanne McPhail, a current patient and member of the centre's patient and family advisory council.
Before COVID-19, McPhail remembers seeing the familiar faces of staff and people coming in and out, gathering around the centre's Tim Horton's. Now it's a very different atmosphere.
"The nurses that you have seen around, you don't recognize them because they have masks on and shields, they're gloved and wearing gowns," she said. "It's just very, very quiet."
The centre has also reduced access for visitors now, and everyone who comes in gets screened for symptoms of COVID-19.
"We've definitely focused on safety by trying to minimize the number of visits for patients," said Jane Martin, vice president of diagnostic, renal and cancer services for Grand River Hospital and the regional vice president for the Waterloo Wellington Regional Cancer Program for Cancer Care Ontario (CCO).
"As many treatments that we can provide or consults that we can provide over the phone we try to do," she adds, noting the centre has seen an increase in patients accessing virtual care.
No backlog expected
Martin said following the guidelines from CCO, staff are in communication with patients whose treatment can be deferred and patients who need treatment urgently continue to get the care they need.
She adds there have been some patients who delayed their treatment on their own accord, and for them to catch up on rescheduled treatment appointments won't be a problem.
"With cancer therapy, we've been going ahead with 85 to 90 per cent of treatment, so unlike selective treatment like hips and knees, where there is a bit of a backlog, there is not so much with the cancer system," she said.
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Martin said staff keep an close eye on patients and will bring them in for treatment if their situation changes.
McPhail said some members of the patient and family advisory council and other groups she's involved with at the centre regularly check in with patients through Zoom or a phone call.
COVID-19 has also added an extra layer of anxiety for cancer patients, who fear getting sick with the illness, McPhail said.
"Our immune systems have already been badly compromised and now we're facing this. It makes you nervous," she said, adding that some patients feel tired or experience slight fever after chemotherapy and worry they may have contracted the coronavirus.
Martin said a person seeking cancer treatment will get tested for COVID-19 before starting their treatment.
If a person seeking treatment does test positive for COVID-19, they will still receive care, she said.
Since the cancer centre has limited the visitors coming in, patients often are taking treatments on their own without a caregiver or family member with them, which adds to the anxiety.
"You can feel so incredibly alone," McPhail said.
Patients are being encouraged to bring their phones or laptops during treatment in order to connect with family members or caregivers.
McPhail said the cancer centre has worked to point patients to additional mental health supports during the pandemic to ease some of the added anxiety.
Shawn Hlowatzki, president of HopeSpring says he's seen an uptick in the number of people needing and accessing support.
"Because of [a compromized immune system], it's vital that they are staying within their bubble, staying at home and sometimes that isolation can be so lonely," he said.
"We could be a lifeline."
Since March, all services Hope Spring offers, such as counselling, yoga, wig services and its men's and women's support groups, have all gone online and are free.
Hope Spring has also made counselling services available for family members, caregivers, nurses, oncologists and doctors.
Hlowatzki said the need for wigs and camisoles have also increased by 25 per cent.
Hlowatzki said he's clocked over 2,000 kilometres delivering wigs, camisoles and cloth masks that were donated to patients in need.
Hope Spring has covered the costs for some patients needing wigs, recognizing that COVID-19 has also put a financial strain on families.