What It’s Like to Get Breast Cancer Treatment During the Pandemic?

October 23, 2020

When Alex Whitaker Cheadle was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer at the age of 24, she struggled to find someone closer to her age who could identify what she was about to go through.” When I went to the doctor, all the material they gave me featured images of older people,” Cheadle told Health.

Now 26, Cheadle has found solace and community by sharing her cancer journey on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Her goal is to provide information and support to other young people going through cancer treatment.” First and foremost, I want to keep my family and friends updated; the other part is to showcase what I’m going through so that others like me don’t feel alone,” she said.

Despite being in remission, Cheadle still has to endure hour-long monthly treatments and injections to keep her body in chemical menopause (to help prevent her hormone-driven breast cancer from coming back). She also receives painful calcium injections to strengthen her bones, which may have been weakened after chemotherapy. Due to the epidemic, however, her appointments were cancelled and she had to go alone to her still-scheduled treatment due to the cancer center’s social distancing protocols.

“The first time I went there alone, I cried,” recalls Cheadle, of Kansas City, Missouri.” Every time you go there, you think of bad memories. It’s hard to go alone, and I understand why.”

Oncologists understand Cheadle’s situation – but in-center treatment isn’t always avoidable.” A virtual visit is something that’s really acceptable and comfortable for patients,” Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s leukemia program, told Health.” But as an oncologist, I can’t donate blood via Skype. I can’t give chemotherapy through Zoom, so my patients have to come to the cancer center.” (Dr. Sekeres did not treat Cheadle.)

To provide virtual support to others in her situation, Cheadle created a TikTok video showing what it was like to go to the doctor on her own during a pandemic. The powerful video went viral and garnered more than 167,000 views.” I saw a lot of patients whose surgeries were delayed, so I filmed something,” she said.” It’s a way to share what’s happening, to help others who are going through it, and to educate those who aren’t.”

Dr. Sekeres, author of When the Blood Collapses: Lessons for Life from Leukemia, explains that cancer centers use good precautions to protect their vulnerable patients, such as rearranging waiting rooms to increase distance and asking anyone who enters if they have any health symptoms that could mean they are infected with coronavirus. Patients who are expected to be immunocompromised due to chemotherapy must be tested for coronavirus prior to receiving chemotherapy.” My patients have a much worse and potentially more life-threatening disease than coronavirus. Their treatment cannot be interrupted,” he said.

Cheadle stresses that her biggest concern is missing critical treatments and tests that could ultimately prevent her cancer from returning, including recently canceled telemedicine appointments.” Without frequent touchpoints for the foreseeable future, there is always some concern in the back of my mind that something could go wrong and we won’t find out about it until later,” Cheadle said.

Both Dr. Cheadle and Dr. Sekeres understand the anxiety cancer patients experience during an epidemic, and they believe a strong support system can relieve stress – and potentially save a life.” Every time we leave our homes today and are exposed to any kind of external environment, we increase our risk of contracting coronavirus,” says Dr. Sekeres.” If you have someone who needs to go to a cancer center, support them in receiving these treatments. If you can, shop for groceries or pick up medication for them while they’re on treatment to limit their additional exposure.”

“It’s easy to feel isolated and alone and think that people won’t understand, but people want to help and listen to you,” says Cheadle, whose husband now accompanies her to her treatments (although he waits in his car to comply with the center’s protocols).” Give them a chance to help you and love you as much as they can.”

As of press time, the information in this story is accurate. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it is possible that some of the data has changed since publication. While the Health Network is working to keep our coverage as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to use the CDC, WHO and local public health departments as resources to stay informed about news and advice in their own communities.