Cancer patients manage treatments, stress during COVID-19 pandemic

Local News

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — It all began with a trip to the hospital for intestinal pain.

“I went to the emergency room with some pain I thought was galbladder,” Carlie Zamani said, “And I was in the emergency room and they found spots in several places; on my pancreas, my liver, some of my female organs.”

Biopsies revealed the devastating news for Zamani and her loved ones; she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized.

Zamani began treatments and faced months of chemotherapy and hospital stays, one of which fell near the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It was kind of frightening, you know, you watched everything on the news and the day that they let me go home, actually they were locking the doors of the hospital, no visitors in or out.”

The American Cancer Society has said that cancer patients are among those at the highest risk for serious illness from COVID-19, doubling some patients’ health concerns.

As someone with essential medical needs, Zamani has still been visiting medical centers for treatments, although social distancing protocol has changed the way those visits look.

“It’s a different situation in the doctor’s office, you know, social distancing, no extra visitors, things like that,” Zamani said.

The isolation and day-to-day risks involved with the pandemic hit hard for those already fighting serious health battles.

“All of us are worried,” licensed clinical social worker Melissa Ketner said, “I’m worried when I go to the grocery store, or the gas station, so I think for that group of patients and survivors, they’re just extra susceptible to all of that.”

Melissa Ketner describes some of the hardships facing patients during the pandemic:

Ketner works in Regional Hospital’s Cancer Center, and said the span of time when elective surgeries were not allowed gave her some concern.

“We get lots of folks who are diagnosed through various kinds of screenings and those aren’t available, so right away I was thinking this is going to cause some delay in new patient diagnosis and getting started with treatment,” Ketner said.

Elective surgeries have now resumed again in Indiana, but a study published in the British Journal of Science stated more than 2 million cancer patients worldwide may face a postponed or cancelled procedure due to COVID-19.

Luckily, the cancer support group Ketner leads has been able to meet virtually rather than be postponed or cancelled, but the virtual-only communication has come with some barriers.

“Everyone just wants to kind of check in with one another and just talk about the stress of what we’re living through right now, so it’s been harder to delve into any deep content,” Ketner said.

Ketner added that the continuation of the meetings in any form is a positive for group members.

Zamani, meanwhile, said her source of support lies within her family and friend group.

“My mother-in-law has really stepped up and taken on the role of caregiver for me and for the kids,” Zamani said.

Zamani pointed to her three children as her main source of strength as she continues weekly treatments and fights for her life.

“It’s made me want to stay strong for them and be well for them,” Zamani said, “I’ve just done everything I can to stay healthy and try to make life as normal for them as possible.”

Ketner said the hardest part of the pandemic for her support group has been the loss of one of its members, a man named Mike, who she called one of the best men she has ever met.

Ketner said the group is looking forward to the day that they can meet in person again and mourn the loss of Mike together as they continue their own journeys.

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