Cancer patients still undergoing therapy amid COVID risks

Ed Christenson has been battling a rare form of cancer called mantle cell lymphoma for the last year a half. Like many battling cancer, when COVID hit he was anxious about continuing his treatment.

“When I got there, they immediately took my temperature, gave us some masks to wear, wash your hands — those kinds of things. I was nervous at first, but I did feel comfortable as we got going. Each week that I went back, there seemed to be more things in place,” he said.

Christenson’s been treated under the care of Dr. Andre Goy at the John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack Meridian Health. He said they’re taking every measure to protect this already vulnerable population of cancer patients.

“It’s a very fragile population because they have chemotherapy, sometimes they have low blood count, they’re immunosuppressed, sometimes they have respiratory issues and co-morbidities because of age and a number of factors that we know are very critical factors for the outcome of COVID. So we created a set up to protect the patients,” Goy said.

The setup includes proper personal protective equipment for all staff, as well as masks on all patients. And they’ve limited the number of people in the building.

“You actually could only go in by yourself. I couldn’t bring anybody with me, which was OK,” Christenson said.

“We put in place immediately a process to screen patients the night before to make sure they had no symptoms, or risk factors, or anything suspicious, and as well as the morning of coming to the cancer center,” Goy said.

The doctor’s message to someone who might feel that someone is wrong but is hesitant to go to the doctor for fear of exposure to COVID-19?

“When patients come to the hospital, we are so careful and focused on their COVID risk that actually patients are highly protected,” Goy said.

And for those already battling cancer, Goy says keeping a positive attitude is critical.

“There’s a huge emotional factor, and also not being busy because the country and the whole world is on pause at this point, is also anxiety generating. So the best way to face the anxiety is actually realize that we have made a lot of progress,” he said.

“I try to get out and walk a lot. I put on some music just to get away from it all because you’re bombarded with, in my opinion, a lot of negative stuff. You really have to just focus, stay positive and keep moving forward,” Christenson said.