COVID-19 presents some tough decisions 1

The COVID-19 outbreak forced countless women to consider how to safely proceed with mammograms, checkups and even treatment for breast cancer.

Ayne Allen of Queens had begun treatment for breast cancer in January, including a grueling regimen of chemotherapy through New York-Presbytrian Queens hospital in Flushing.

She had just finished four doses of chemo by the end of February and was preparing for another 12-week cycle in early March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York with full fury, shutting down most of the city.

She, like countless women, had decisions to make about if and how to continue their treatment when in-home care was not an option, meaning going to offices, hospitals or clinics, placing themselves at risk with their immune systems already under attack.

“I had fears,” the Queens resident said. “I couldn’t do it at the house. How was I going to get there in a pandemic? Who would take me?” And if she decided to stop, there was a real possibility she would have to start from the beginning again when treatment resumed.

Dr. Lauren Elreda, hematologist and oncologist at New York-Presbyterian Queens and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, said many women had to make decisions about continuing or interrupting treatment, or in some cases, going to their regular screenings and mammograms.

“There’s no uniform advice,” she told the Chronicle. “It depended on the patient — what stage were they at? Were they taking chemothreapy? Immunotherapy?”

And she said the fears were very real particularly among older patients who were statistically more vulnerable to catching COVID-19 if they had to venture outside of their homes.

She said they helped many patients with decisions as to which women could afford to wait based on their circumstances, and who should not. They also had their own doctors, nurses and staff to consider and protect.

“Our job was to come up with the best ways to treat our patients properly and safely.”

“I used masks, gloves, a lot of Lysol wipes and did it,” said Allen, who said she is feeling about 80 percent back to normal. “My best advice is to do it and leave the rest in the hands of God.”

Helena Smalls of Jamaica would agree. At a breast cancer event last weekend, she told the Chronicle that upon turning 40, she decided to take advantage of laws making it easier to get a mammogram.

“I was lucky I did,” she said. “The first time they found a lump — it was benign. But I still go back for my screening every year.”

SHARE, an informational and support group for cancer patients and survivors, runs numerous programs in Queens.

Carol Evans, the CEO, and Gwen Harrison, its Queens ambassador and support group coordinator, said they see the continuing danger to women.

“It’s a very big problem because people are afraid to go out, and they are already feeling vulnerable,” Evans said. She said some are forecasting that up to 10,000 women in the country could die because of delayed screenings and treatment this year.

“Then it becomes a race,” Evans said. “Some places in the U.S are experiencing a 95 percent drop in mammography screenings,” Evans said.

CORRECTION

This article has been edited to correct the spelling of Dr. Elreda'a name. We regret the error. Dr. Lauren Elreda's title also has been clarified.

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