Five-time cancer survivor: Don’t put off checkups during COVID-19
I’ve been coming to MD Anderson for almost 11 years now, because I have a rare genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. It puts me at much greater risk of developing many different types of cancer over my lifetime. I’m only 36 now, and I’ve already had five cancers: adrenal, breast, thyroid, melanoma and sarcoma.
Normally, I get my checkups at MD Anderson every three months, just to make sure nothing new has cropped up. My husband and I usually fly down to Houston from our home in New York City. But my last checkup was originally scheduled for April. And by then, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was really gearing up, so I decided to postpone it.
I finally got back to MD Anderson on July 20. And after seeing all of the protocols it has in place, I wish I’d gone sooner. Because I can honestly say that I have never felt safer at a hospital.
The hardest part of the COVID-19 pandemic for me: waiting for my checkup
So far, the most stressful part of the COVID-19 pandemic for me has been waiting six months for my checkup instead of three. Because early detection and MD Anderson’s amazing doctors are what have kept me cancer-free for the past five years.
I’ve been really lucky, in that everything I’ve ever been diagnosed with has been caught super early, when it’s most treatable. And one of the benefits of being on such a regular surveillance schedule is knowing that anything my doctors might find will only be three months old, maximum.
I delayed my normal checkup because I was so worried about staying in a hotel. At that time, the State of Texas had a mandatory two-week quarantine in place for people coming from New York. I was already concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 because I’d be going to a hospital. So, the thought of risking exposure at a hotel as well was just too much.
The decision to wait was entirely mine, but it still created a lot of anxiety for me. My care team strongly encouraged me not delay my checkups. And my husband and I went back and forth a lot, debating whether to go ahead and get my scans done here in New York or travel to MD Anderson.
In the end, we concluded that going to MD Anderson was still the best choice, so I rescheduled my checkups for late July and my husband and I drove down to Houston in a rented RV.
MD Anderson’s COVID-19 precautions made me feel safe
I was already aware of the many COVID-19 safety protocols MD Anderson has in place, such as limited entrances and screenings upon arrival. But seeing them in action really gave me a lot of peace of mind.
I was asked to use hand sanitizer the minute I walked in and again before entering the gift shop. And though I was a bit disappointed not to be able to wear the rainbow face mask I’d brought with me, I found it very reassuring that everyone around me — both employees and patients — had on the same type of protection I did: a medical-grade face mask provided by MD Anderson.
I think we’ve all turned into hypochondriacs a little bit these days, but MD Anderson really made me feel safe. I didn’t see one person without a mask on while I was there. And the fact that I was rescreened after I’d just walked outside and come back in showed me that MD Anderson really is protecting its patients to the very best of its ability.
High level of cancer care remains despite COVID-19 pandemic
Another thing that gave me peace of mind was the thoughtfulness of MD Anderson’s employees.
My doctors found a little spot on my pelvic bone that concerned them during my July 20 checkup, so they asked me to return for a biopsy. As you can imagine, I was extremely anxious, especially because I’d never had that kind of test before.
I was really worried about how it would go, but the Interventional Radiology team was incredible. The biopsy went very smoothly, and I was allowed to wear a mask during the entire procedure. One of the MRI technicians even gave me a little piece of lavender-scented ribbon to help me feel calmer. It smelled so delicious, it was almost like having aromatherapy at a spa.
MD Anderson has always done an incredible job with its patients, but I feel like that’s truer now more than ever. Even during a pandemic, they offer the highest level of care, and I really love that about them. Every little detail that goes into their work makes you feel like you’re their only patient. And even though the current situation has everyone stressed out, I didn’t feel any of that energy there.
Lesson learned: don’t put your health on the back burner
The hardest thing about being a cancer patient — or any kind of patient — during the COVID-19 pandemic is that sometimes you put your own health on the back burner because don’t want to risk getting this disease.
But cancer doesn’t stop for COVID. I was lucky in that the spot on my pelvis turned out to be nothing. But I have learned my lesson. Your health comes first. So, don’t delay your checkups.
By the time I left MD Anderson, it didn’t even faze me that the COVID-19 pandemic was going on, because everyone there was being so careful and cautious. So, you can feel totally safe in coming to MD Anderson.