Michael is a cancer survivor with a zeal for life that is contagious. Less than a year ago, while recovering from knee surgery, Michael noticed a lump on the left side of his neck. After a CT scan and two biopsies, he received a diagnosis of throat cancer. Due to pandemic restrictions, he received the diagnosis in a telephone call from one of his doctors. A cancer diagnosis is a stressful event under any circumstances, but the stress and hardships of cancer treatment during COVID-19 created an additional layer of uncertainty and anxiety for Michael and his family. Thanks to his wife and adult children, Michael had a strong support system. However, COVID-19 restrictions eventually prevented his wife from attending his appointments. Michael went to his appointments alone and his wife waited in the parking lot or made multiple round trips on chemotherapy days—four hours was a long time to wait in the car. Michael’s wife once waited six to seven hours, while he sought treatment in the emergency room. On both occasions, Michael’s youngest daughter drove to the hospital and joined his wife in her car to keep her company during the time it took to resolve the medical issues.
The pandemic amplified the uncertainties that Michael experienced during his cancer journey. Like most cancer patients, Michael was at greater risk for COVID-19 because he was immunosuppressed. Concerns about contracting COVID-19 affected every area of Michael’s life. Many of his colleagues were younger and were not really concerned about the pandemic. This led Michael to begin teleworking before he had to stop working altogether. Simple activities like visiting with family and grocery shopping were upended. Saturday and Sunday mornings began with early morning trips to the store in hopes that the store was empty. Visits with grandkids suddenly stopped and several months passed before Michael was reunited with his grandkids. The first holiday missed was Easter, and soon thereafter, Mother’s Day. Holidays in Michael’s family were always big events with Michael cooking up a big meal. This year there were no hugs, kisses, or big meals. They simply talked in the driveway, socially distanced and masked.
Despite daily challenges and disruptions to Michael’s cancer care and treatment, the pandemic could not overshadow the compassion and kindness that Michael’s healthcare team provided. Michael was touched by how gentle and thoughtful his healthcare team was when prepping him for radiation treatments. Similarly, nurses from the infusion unit always came to talk with him. Despite being busy, they showed genuine interest in his well-being. Even interns brought Michael lunch and snacks. Cancer care and treatment are uniquely challenging, but these challenges are compounded when COVID-19 restrictions require patients to attend medical appointments or emergency room visits alone. Michael’s healthcare providers made him feel heard and answered his questions. Even small things like treatment simulations helped reduce anxiety and helped Michael better understand how a treatment or procedure might proceed.
These days, Michael enjoys taking trips to the beach with his wife. You can also find him playing golf, enjoying his grandkids, or applying nearly four decades of law enforcement expertise to clemency investigations in Florida.