‘Cancer doesn’t take a back seat to COVID’: Ovarian cancer patient urges community to follow social distancing guidelines

Cancer Doesn't take a back seat to COVID

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Kim Whitehouse was social distancing long before the term entered the vocabulary of most people.

That’s because she has been battling ovarian cancer, going through an aggressive chemotherapy regimen for the last few months.

It’s also why she’s been frustrated to see some in the area not complying with stay-at-home orders, either due to ignorance or defiance, because it puts her and others like her in danger.

“I get it, the answer that everybody wants to say is, ‘Well then you stay home.’ But people in treatment have to leave their home to go to hospitals, and we need to be able to do that with minimal risk," she said. "So that’s just an important part of it.”

Whitehouse was originally diagnosed in 2017, when doctors found a mass on her ovary. The disease returned in 2019.

After going through the chemotherapy process, doctors determined she needs another surgery, which she said is scheduled for next week, but the spread of the coronavirus has put that plan on shaky ground.

“So for me and for a lot of patients this time has been super stressful because, you know, we don’t know if our procedures are going to be able to be done, and doctors are having to make some really tough decisions so that has been a hard thing for sure," Whitehouse said.

In addition to threatening the ability for doctors to provide treatment to cancer patients, Whitehouse said continued disruption puts those who haven’t yet been diagnosed in a worse position.

“The longer that we don’t fully commit to this the longer that we are very much risking people not having the resources to go to have cancer screenings or address consistent symptoms with her doctor,” she said.

For ovarian cancer in particular, early detection is critical for patients to have a higher chance of survival.

“Because yes the symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic things that women go through, bloating, pelvic pain, painful urination, painful intercourse,” she said, “but the key with ovarian cancer symptoms specifically is if they go on for longer than two weeks and we need our healthcare system to be able to support people addressing these concerns," she said.

Whitehouse said she recognizes the difficulties and inconveniences that come along with the need to isolate, as well as the toll it can take emotionally.

“I’ve struggled myself with telling my son. You know I would wish that I could tell him, I went through something like this when I was your age and things got better. When hurricane Florence happened, and that was such a scary time for our community and I remember telling him I was your age when Hurricane Diana hit, it was scary but everything went back to normal. I can’t tell him that about this. I don’t know what to tell him, so in some ways it’s prepared need but in other ways I’m just as lost as everybody else," she said.

Still, Whitehouse hopes people will be able to use her and other cancer patients as a means of humanizing the pandemic.

“I just think our community and our state in general have an awesome opportunity where if we commit to this we can lower the curve, we can get in front of it even perhaps where maybe we don’t have that flood on our hospitals where we can continue treating people with cancer and other chronic diseases and still attend to the COVID patients,” she said.

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