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COVID-19 pandemic creates added anxiety for Maui’s cancer survivors

Katherine Barthels is a cancer survivor and facilitator of the weekly “Share and Care” virtual support sessions. She is shown with her 3-year-old daughter, Olivia.

Katherine “Kat” Barthels of Kihei is a two time melanoma cancer survivor and has more on her mind nowadays.

“I am dealing with new challenges now, one challenge has been my three-month dermatology appointments were canceled so I am now doing my own body scans to monitor any suspicious spots.”

With COVID-19, Kat has been observing the stay-at-home orders particularly because she is higher risk and is the mother of an active 3-year-old. But, not being able to get her regular skin checks creates added stress and anxieties.

According to Dr. Bridget Bongaard, Director of Maui Cancer Wellness Retreats, “This anxiety is real and filters through our minds at the least likely times as the threat of COVID has a beginning, but no foreseeable or hard fast end. COVID only adds on a deeper layer of fear as they know that there is a higher risk of mortality for those having cancer and contracting the virus.”

A recent article in “Medscape Journal” describes the mental and emotional toll from COVID-19 similar to PTSD, symptoms that include anxiety and depression. This new normal may have long lasting impact on mental health, especially when dealing with chronic diseases such as cancer.

Kay Anderson, a metastatic breast cancer and stage-four liver cancer survivor, was recently hospitalized at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Her roommate was a newly diagnosed cancer patient who was recovering from surgery. Visitors were not allowed as they were both immunocompromised, but not having the emotional support during this time exacerbated their recovery.

For Kay, going through a cancer treatment during the pandemic has been telemedicine conference calls rather than physical appointments to check for tumors. Her cancer specialist appointment on the Mainland was canceled which left a lot of her health care in limbo.

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