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For Cancer Patients, Elective Surgeries Can’t Come Soon Enough

Doing what patients can from home can help, but postponed surgeries have been taking their toll.
By Audrey Dedrick |

The shelter-in-place order that ended elective surgeries is taking a physical and mental toll on those fighting cancer. While many cancer treatments were not considered emergencies, patients were suffering. With Governor Greg Abbott’s new order, relief could be on the way.

Cancer Support Community North Texas, a nonprofit that provides free emotional and social support to cancer patients and their families, experienced a 1,000 percent increase in views of its online presentations and workshops. In all of 2019, CSCNT experienced 11,000 digital views, while there were 9,000 in the first four weeks of the stay-at-home order. Popular presentations included exercise, meditation, and art.

“We’re all experiencing uncertainty, fear, stress, isolation and loss of control – feelings cancer patients already experience every day without a looming pandemic,” says CSCNT CEO Mirchelle Louis via release. “Not surprisingly, cancer patients and their families are proving that they need us more than ever.”

Abbott’s executive order has loosened restrictions on what surgeries can be performed, allowing some elective surgeries to move forward while still taking precautions against COVID-19. Many elective surgeries will be allowed to move forward as long as they do not interfere with hospitals’ ability to reserve adequate amounts of PPE and at least 25 percent of their capacity for treating COVID-19.

This move to loosen restrictions on surgeries comes after Abbott’s March 13th ban on non-essential surgeries, which was enacted to conserve hospital resources. The new executive order is part of Abbott’s plan to gradually reopen the Texas economy.

The new order comes as a relief to cancer patients, many of who had to either postpone surgeries or find alternative treatment options for the time being. While some more urgent surgeries were allowed to proceed following the March 13th executive order, such as surgeries to treat particularly aggressive cancers, many patients—notably, many breast cancer patients, who are able to treat their disease temporarily with hormone-regulating medication—were forced to delay their surgical procedures. Those surgeries can now move forward, provided they do not deplete resources for COVID-19 patients.

“[The loosening of restrictions] is going to ease the anxiety of the treating doctors, that we’re not breaking the law by doing a surgery, and it’s going to ease the anxiety of our patients saying, hey, this is good, we’re going to move forward. We’re getting people on the schedule,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lamont, a surgical specialist with Texas Oncology.

Doctors and health care workers have already been taking extra precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19, such as scheduling appointments via telehealth where possible, and wearing N-95 masks for extra protection where needed. These measures will continue as elective surgeries are scheduled, while the threat of the virus remains.

“Texas Oncology supports Governor Abbott’s decision to loosen restrictions on surgeries,” said Dr. R. Steven Paulson, president and chairman of Texas Oncology, via statement. “For many cancer patients, surgery is an essential and urgent component of their diagnosis and treatment. Cancer treatment cannot be paused during COVID-19. Our practice has focused on remaining open and continuing needed treatment for cancer patients across Texas, while taking numerous steps to protect the safety of our patients and our staff. Texas Oncology’s nearly 100 surgeons look forward to resuming our many collaborative relationships with hospital surgery units and surgery centers in Texas to safely provide needed care to patients.

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