Navigating a new cancer diagnosis during a pandemic: ‘Everything is upended’

Robin McGee has been here before. When she was diagnosed with a recurrence of colorectal cancer on Monday, it marked the third time she’s been told she has cancer.

But this time, the diagnosis came in the midst of a pandemic, with the health care system in a partial shutdown to prepare for cases of COVID-19.

“What would normally happen is that a patient who has a recurrence is sort of clicked right back into their team,” said McGee. “But I’m having trouble making that connection because of the crisis.”

All non-essential surgeries and procedures have been cancelled in Nova Scotia as officials brace for COVID-19 patients to start arriving at hospitals.

McGee said it’s unclear to her if the procedures she needs before her cancer care begins fall into that category.

“For example, I have a [catheter in my chest that’s dysfunctional,” she said. “Chemotherapy is delivered through it. That needs to be removed and replaced, that’s a day procedure.

“Unfortunately, all-day procedures are cancelled.”

McGee said she was unable to get in contact with the cancer centre in Nova Scotia or with a surgeon’s office, but she did speak with someone with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) on Friday morning.

The senior director of the NSHA’s Cancer Care Program, Dr. Drew Bethune, told Global News that his team is dedicated to maintaining cancer services to the greatest extent possible.

“Although routine surgeries have been suspended, cancer surgeries are not considered routine,” Bethune said.

“There may be delays for many patients needing cancer surgery. A committee of expert cancer surgeons will make prioritizing decisions, considering all aspects of the surgery involved.”

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