Cancer Doesn’t Quarantine: Safe, Uninterrupted Chemotherapy During COVID-19

For Kim Krygier, the concern wasn’t just the coronavirus public health crisis. It was that her breast cancer defied isolation. Converging events propelled her to receive chemotherapy this spring at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, where enhanced safety measures continue to deliver uninterrupted cancer care in the face of COVID-19.

Kim received the call on the day before New Year’s Eve when her sister, a breast cancer survivor, was visiting her home. The lump in Kim’s breast was cancer. The next day, a serendipitous conversation with a physician and family friends changed the course of her treatment. Late that night, the physician contacted a colleague at Henry Ford’s Breast Cancer Program. “Tell your friend she’ll be getting a call in the morning,” the colleague says. In less than a week, Kim met with the Henry Ford breast cancer team.

The medical staff would ultimately say the timing was perfect for Kim to complete chemotherapy, navigate through the coronavirus pandemic and have a mastectomy this summer. Kim would say the sequence of events were all blessings from God.

“I felt like the red carpet was rolled out for me,” says Kim about her first appointment at Henry Ford. “The nurse navigators scheduled all my appointments. I never had to make one phone call. They took the ball from me and ran,” says Kim, 51, a wife and a mother of five adult children.

In mid-January, she began chemotherapy, but during her treatment, the coronavirus triggered a statewide lockdown.

“Fighting cancer is very hard, but it’s especially difficult for patients during the pandemic,” says Marian Girgis M.D., a Henry Ford medical oncologist and Kim’s doctor. “Cancer does not wait or quarantine. Without treatment, it will progress into a more advanced stage. To stop or delay treatment, would have compromised Kim’s care. She would have lost all the benefits she had already received from the chemotherapy administered before the pandemic.”

With enhanced safeguards in place, Henry Ford was confident patients would be safe during in-person appointments and treatments like chemotherapy.

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On the day before their clinic appointment, patients are prescreened by phone for coronavirus symptoms. Patients are again screened at building and department entrances. All patients, visitors and staff wear masks. In the infusion room, six-foot spacing is arranged between the chairs. Blood work is done in the infusion room to save patients a trip to the lab. Throughout the day, floors, chairs, and surfaces are repeatedly sanitized. Both virtual and in-person clinic visits are offered at times and convenient places for patients too.

“The nurses are so careful. I was never afraid. I felt protected – like I was in the eye of the storm. I was able to continue these healing treatments, taking one day at a time and knowing that this too shall pass,” says Kim.

“From the first day, Kim has been full of hope and determination,” says Dr. Girgis. “She has a very good faith that God will save her through her prayers and her family’s prayers. She’s very grateful and compassionate to the caregivers, and her positive energy reflects on everyone. It’s very rewarding. Kim is an inspiration to all of us.”

“Between the nurses and I, there was a constant flow of care from them to me, and from me to them,” says Kim. “Some connections are life changing, and people just want to know that they’re loved and cared about.”

Kim’s chemotherapy involved Adriamycin and Cytoxan, which was followed by Paclitaxel. “She is clinically responding very well to treatment and never complains of anything, even when she experienced the devastating side effect of losing all of her hair,” says Dr. Girgis.

As part of her plans to help others through cancer, Kim offers some advice: Listen to yourself. This is an individual journey. Everyone has their own way of dealing with cancer. “My doctors are treating me. They know my disease best.”

“We go through life with either fear or faith. I would say, choose faith,” says Kim. “Fear is going to paralyze, weaken and defeat. But faith is going to bring hope, encouragement, strength and see you through.”

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