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‘I could die’: Cancer patient asks public to follow COVID-19 guidelines

Cancer patients’ immune systems compromised, making virus a bigger threat

SAN ANTONIO – This is a stressful time for everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that anxiety is heightened for people who have life-threatening diseases like cancer.

Doctors are adjusting their systems to make it safer for those patients to get treatment, but that's only one piece of the puzzle.

A San Antonio cancer patient wants her community members to know she’s trusting them with her life.

In September, Juanita Gray, a grandmother, was diagnosed with HER2 positive carcinoma of the right breast.

“I did chemotherapy up until January 14. I had surgery February 20 and I had a radical double mastectomy,” Gray said.

Next week she starts radiation every day for five weeks, at the Mays Cancer Center run by UT Health San Antonio and MD Anderson.

The center is overhauling services to keep patients safe. In part, that means Gray won’t sit in waiting rooms.

“Patients wait in their car and then when it’s time for them to get their treatment, give them a text. Then, they’re guided into a door that goes into radiation therapy. Then they get back in their car and drive away,” said Mays Cancer Center Director Dr. Ruben Mesa.

  • Mesa said that’s one of many measures the center is taking. Others include:
  • Doctors are using tele-medicine for many consultations and follow up appointments
  • For necessary in-person appointments, they’re screening both patients and staff
  • There is a separate, isolated entrance and elevator for patients feeling sick
  • All faculty and staff who are not involved in patient care that day are working from home

“We’ve always operated around teams, called Tumor Boards, where doctors of different specialties get together and they talk about a patient’s care. Those are also now electronic. That team-based approach is still ongoing, but we have zero meetings where people are getting together around a table,” Mesa said.

Explained: San Antonio, Bexar County issue ‘Stay Home, Work Safe’ orders. Here’s what that means.

As part of social distancing, Gray isn’t allowed to have visitors with her at appointments, but she’s OK with that, knowing it could save lives.

She’s pleading with the public to understand the severity of the virus, saying she worries people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously enough.

“They could potentially kill me,” she said. “I could get the virus and I don’t have the immune system that I had before, because the chemotherapy took all of that away trying to kill the cancer that I have. So if they don’t take it seriously, I could die.”

Gray said she loves San Antonio and is keeping the faith that people will think of her and other cancer patients, when they’re following COVID-19 guidelines.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.

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