Caregiver gets creative to show support despite coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions
Like many people, Albert Conner is avoiding unnecessary outings and staying at least six feet away from anyone not living in his immediate household, due to a local stay at home order intended to slow the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
But he’s also dealing with an added layer of COVID-19 precautions: his wife, Kelly, is undergoing breast cancer treatment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. And, like other hospitals in the Houston area, MD Anderson has temporarily stopped allowing visitors, in order to protect its patients and workforce members from COVID-19.
New visitor restrictions means new plans for cancer treatment appointment
Kelly was scheduled for a chemotherapy infusion on the morning of March 30, after she’d been diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer, two months earlier. Albert had accompanied her to all of her previous visits to MD Anderson in Sugar Land, the location closest to their home in Missouri City.
But this was her first appointment since the new visitor restrictions had been implemented. This time, Albert either had to stay at home or wait outside the building until his wife was finished.
“I think she handled it better than I did,” Albert says. “I was so stressed about it.”
Albert Conner in the parking lot of MD Anderson in Sugar Land
Getting creative to show support during cancer treatment
An hour after his wife left home for her appointment that morning, he drove his own car to MD Anderson in Sugar Land. He parked outside the infusion wing and pulled out a poster board. On it, he’d written, “I can’t be with you, but I’m here loving (heart) you!”
Albert wasn’t sure if his wife would even see the sign. But it was important for him to let Kelly know he was there, even if he couldn’t be by her side.
“I’ve been to every treatment but this one,” he says. “And I promised her I’d be there for every step. I didn’t want to break my word.”
Small gesture brings big comfort
By happenstance, the second-floor room in which Kelly received her infusion that day had a window — and it looked out directly onto the same section of parking lot where Albert was stationed. So, Kelly could see her husband clearly, along with his message of support.
“I suspected he was up to something,” admits Kelly. “He’d talked about driving over and just sitting in the car. I told him not to, that I’d be fine. But that didn’t make the gesture any less sweet. I felt so much love for him in that moment.”
Kelly notes that just her husband being there means a lot. “Your mental and emotional health are just as important as your physical health when you’re going through treatment,” she says. “Just having someone with you who knows how hard it is and can sympathize is so important.”
Making peace with precautions to protect patients, employees from COVID-19
Kelly and Albert know it will be a while before he’s able to attend another appointment with her. But they’re understanding of why MD Anderson isn’t allowing visitors right now. Cancer patients have compromised immune systems due to their disease and/or treatments, which makes them more susceptible to COVID-19 and other illnesses.
“They have to protect the nurses and all the patients in there,” Albert says. “And I’ve made my peace with that, because the coronavirus is going around. I’d rather be inside with Kelly, but at least I can still chat with her on the phone.”
Albert doesn’t plan to continue sitting outside with a sign during Kelly’s future appointments. “But I hope the pandemic is over by the time she rings the bell that signifies the end of treatment,” he says. “If it isn’t, I might have to bring one of my own to ring outside with her.”