In the span of a few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed the nation and shifted the way cancer care is being delivered across the globe. The team at the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center have felt the magnitude of the recent changes. As they have transitioned patient care and adopted new technology and practices, their immediate priority has always been to save lives and provide timely, effective cancer treatment in a safe environment.
Staff at the Barnhart Cancer Center's radiation oncology department have responded quickly to protect patients and staff by reducing virus exposure. They have implemented extra precautions to screen patients upon arrival, manage patient flow and adopt safe new ways to support cancer patients.
Telemedicine and video conferencing have allowed patient and doctor visits to continue. This new way of communicating has allowed the team to better protect a population that is frequently immunocompromised and would be especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Mary Durand, manager of radiation oncology and patient navigation at the Barnhart Cancer Center, detailed a recent telemedicine visit.
"We had a patient who could not speak and wasn't allowed to have his wife with him in the hospital for his initial consultation with our physicians through telemedicine, due to the newly implemented visitor policy," says Durand. "One of our nurses went to accompany the patient, who was admitted to the hospital, to be on one end of the video call, while the patient's treating physician was on the other end," Durand says. "Major improvements have been made in the past eight weeks since we began using telemedicine."
While some cancer-related treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, cannot be safely delayed, it is important not to delay treatments that have the potential to help patients rehabilitate.
Once a patient completes therapy, the treatment teams at the cancer center celebrate and honor this huge milestone. It's typically a momentous occasion that takes place indoors for patients and their loved ones to exchange experiences, acknowledge their strength, and thank the caregivers who helped them on their journey to wellness. For Delia Pante, a recent Barnhart graduate, the pandemic did not stop the team from celebrating her accomplishment.
"I was on cloud nine," says Pante, as she described the powerful moment when her family and treatment team surrounded her at her graduation. "I was in treatment for six weeks for breast cancer. I was apprehensive on the first day, but I became at ease thanks to the staff that helped me through my recovery. They really took great care of me. I'm beyond blessed."
The main celebration was in the hearts of Pante's caregivers. Rick Michaels, lead medical physicist, brought in a cowbell from his triathlon days for all to hear during Pante's outdoor graduation.
"Delia's family was amazing," Michaels says. "They had this massive homemade sign. You could feel the love. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to come out of the back where I typically work and not just witness, but feel the family's love and proud spirit of their mom completing her course of treatment. Having competed in triathlons myself, you realize how much this type of support goes toward your own journey and getting to the finish line."
The Barnhart cancer care team has come together to respond to patient needs and is committed to providing high-quality care despite the new barriers presented by these extraordinary times.
"The good thing is that we are all sharing the same journey through these challenges," says Michaels. "It has provided additional opportunity to demonstrate what we are really made of."
Learn more about cancer care at Sharp.