Breast cancer survivor: Why I feel safe visiting MD Anderson during COVID-19
Constance Porter, Ph.D.
As a long-time asthmatic and a recent breast cancer survivor, I’m already at high risk of developing serious complications if I get an upper respiratory infection like COVID-19. Things can turn bad quickly if I even get so much as a cold. The last time I had the flu in late 2003 — the one year I didn’t get a flu shot — I actually feared I might die alone in my house. That’s how much I suffered.
But I’m at even greater risk today, because my heart took a bit of a hit from doxorubicin, one of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat my breast cancer back in 2017. And COVID-19 can affect the heart, too. Being a Black woman in my 50s only increases my risk. That’s why I faced my most recent appointments at MD Anderson with a bit of concern.
Why I waited — and why I went to MD Anderson during the COVID-19 pandemic
My follow-ups at MD Anderson were originally scheduled for May. But I bumped them back to late June, thinking things might be better by then. COVID-19 cases had been surging both in Houston and in Texas, and I didn’t want to catch the coronavirus.
Still, based on my oncotype score, I have an “off the charts” breast cancer recurrence risk, so I know how important it is for me to see my oncologists regularly. I decided to go to my June appointments anyway, even as the COVID-19 case count kept rising. I was simply not willing to delay my visits beyond that.
Fortunately, MD Anderson has been frequently communicating its COVID-19 safety standards and protocols to patients. So, I was pretty sure that if I could trust anyone to keep me safe from COVID-19, it was MD Anderson.
Clear infection control measures eased my worries about COVID-19 safety
MD Anderson’s COVID-19 protocols were clear and well-executed from the minute I arrived on campus.
After taking just two steps out of the parking lot elevator, I was handed a medical-grade face mask, asked to clean my hands and guided to stand in a clearly marked spot, away from those around me. I was checked in quickly, asked a few screening questions, and didn’t even have to remove my hat to get my temperature taken. (Apparently, the camera installed above my head had captured it, even through the fabric!)
After that, I was on my way to the Mays Clinic lab, which is a pretty busy place. However, on this visit, it was not crowded at all, and most of the chairs had been removed to allow for proper social distancing.
Efficient process got me in and out quickly
No matter where I went on the MD Anderson campus, I couldn’t help noticing that hand sanitizer was everywhere. And someone came around to wipe down the check-in screens frequently while I was waiting to be called. It wasn’t long before I was in the lab myself, rolling up my sleeve to have my blood drawn. All told, I was in and out of there in less than 20 minutes, which was just what I wanted.
That same speed, efficiency and attention to detail were evident in the waiting area for my oncologist, too. But by this time, I had lost all anxiety about being there.
Looking ahead without worry
I am happy to report that I’m still healthy and cancer-free, so my next checkup won’t be until late December. But who knows where we’ll be pandemic-wise as a city, state and nation by then?
Whatever the world may look like, I know now that I can let go of any worries I might’ve had about my safety when it comes to MD Anderson. This was my first appointment there during the COVID-19 pandemic. But I shouldn’t really be surprised by the excellent protocols I found in place. After all, MD Anderson always stays on top of things. And it never disappoints me as a patient.