Fighting cancer during the COVID-19 crisis |

Fighting cancer during the COVID-19 crisis

Deanna Dewberry
Created: June 02, 2020 07:55 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — This pandemic has been tough for all of us. But it's been especially hard on those for whom a visit to the grocery store could be deadly.

That's what it's like to battle cancer during a pandemic. And that’s the challenge Deborah Sisto is facing.  

Last December as she and her family prepared for Christmas, she waited anxiously for test results.

Then on Dec. 23, 2019, her fears were confirmed. She had breast cancer and be forced to come face to face with a foe she knows well.
"My mom had breast cancer 20 years ago," Sisto said.

Her mother survived. For years she kept the beast at bay. But then the cancer returned a decade after her initial diagnosis.

“It had metastasized, and we cared for her for two years before she passed away,” Sisto said.

Caring for others comes naturally to Sisto. She's a medical assistant who has dedicated her life to health care. Never did she believe the roles would one day be reversed.

"I said to my husband, I never thought I would be walking into this building [Lipson Cancer and Blood Center] as a patient instead of as an employee."  

She had surgery in January, and a month later she began the first of a grueling six cycle course of chemotherapy.

"I thought I'd still be able to go to the store, take a meditation class, a yoga class,” said Sisto. “But shortly into treatment, COVID came along."

And now leaving her home is out of the question.

"They [Sisto’s chemotherapy drugs] do cause low blood counts putting her of increased risk for an infection absent of a pandemic,” said her oncologist, Dr. Saad Jamshed.

A U.K. study published this week in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, showed 28% of cancer patients died when they contracted the coronavirus. Compare that to an overall COVID-19 death rate in the U.S.of 5.8%. 

So because of Sisto’s chemotherapy-weakened immune system, she has essentially been home-bound for months.  While her adult sons are now home and helping as is her husband who now works from home, Sisto admits it's not been easy.  

“It's a very lonely thing when your family says ‘I wish we can hug you or give you a kiss’ and you're like, ‘We’re going to have to be able to put it on hold," she said.

Across the country, cancer centers made huge changes like limiting staff in examining rooms, and physicians are now wearing masks as well as shields to help protect their vulnerable patients. 

At The Lipson Cancer Center lobby, chairs have now been moved so patients can practice social distancing. The same is true in the infusion areas.  

Having cancer any time is challenging. Having cancer during a pandemic is overwhelming. But Sisto is determined.

"I want to give back,” Sisto said. “When I'm done with this, I want to take what I’ve learned and pass it on to other people so perhaps the quality of their life will be better.”

Sisto has just one more chemotherapy treatment. Then she has weeks of radiation treatments. And she says she hopes to emerge from this battle better than before.

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