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Whilst the spread of COVID-19 has brought many people, businesses and even cities to a stand-still, cancer diagnoses and treatment never stop.
For the estimated 145 000 Australians who will be diagnosed with cancer this year, balancing the fear and stresses of a global pandemic within a cancer journey has presented challenges many cannot imagine.
Mater’s Cancer Care Centre (MCCC) Care Coordinator Claire Kelly said the delivery of treatments at Mater including chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other vital treatments have continued throughout COVID-19, but restrictions have changed service delivery since the pandemic began.
“Patients attend the centre for a range of cancers and malignancies which require stringent, well-thought out treatment plans,” she said.
“We have changed our day-to-day service delivery to both reduce the number of people attending the centre as well as ensure those who do attend for treatment are confident that their risk of exposure is as minimal as possible.”
MCCC have implemented arrival screening of all patients and their visitors including screening questions and temperature monitoring, visitor restrictions to limit foot traffic throughout the centre, and boosted the out-of-hospital and online support—which has been particularly important given cancer patients sit within the higher risk category for COVID-19.
Mater Private Hospital Brisbane Breast Care Nurse, Ash Mondolo described the restrictions as a balancing act for staff to ensure they keep their patients both safe and supported.
“Ensuring we maintain the treatment people need with the level of care they require whilst remaining conscious that the risks of person-to-person COVID-19 transmission means we must put safety parameters in place. This has undoubtedly been challenging at times.”
“As the key support for many of our patients, our surgeons and cancer care teams have struggled to not be a physical shoulder to cry on or a celebratory hug. In true Mater spirit, we are striving to keep spirits high with more open chat, compassion and laughter.”
Like many health services, Mater has seen telehealth implemented to reduce many in-person consultations and provide regular medical engagement to patients from the comfort and safety of their own home.
“Whilst it can’t replace that face-to-face feeling, using telehealth allowed us to maintain a level of normality for our patients, and have regular contact to ensure they are continuing to get the treatment and support they need.”
Although isolation has been challenging for people of all walks of life, Ash added that whether patients are dealing with the shock of a cancer diagnosis or regularly getting treatment, isolation can be a concern for anyone going through a major health issue.
“Seeing friends and family during treatment provides a sense of normality for many cancer patients and sometimes people need real hands-on support,” she said.
“Isolation can be a big concern for our patients, so our key focus has been on encouraging them to continue safe in-person interaction with loved ones.”
Claire and Ash agreed the most important part of care for a cancer patient is continuing lifesaving treatments, and following the regime and plan that doctors have prescribed.
“Although COVID-19 is undoubtedly frightening, we want our patients to stay calm and know that although we are in a very challenging time, support and safe treatment is still available.”
“Our method of care may be slightly different in these times but our standard of care is just the same. Pandemic or not, we are here,” Ash said.
For more information on Mater’s cancer care services, visit http://cancercare.mater.org.au/
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