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How The Covid-19 Pandemic Affected Teen With Cancer

Future child life specialist, raising awareness for pediatric cancer.

Nahtale Lloyd

Nahtale Lloyd

COVID-19: Its Effects on Cancer Research and Treatment

The COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone, including kids with cancer.

Many research centers enacted policies limiting the number of lab workers allowed onsite, halting many studies due to viral transmission concerns. Government-funded research projects haven't been impacted by the pandemic, but projects with private funding face funding gaps. Cancer-focused philanthropic organizations have seen a drastic decrease in donations due to COVID-19.

Moreover, COVID-19 has also adversely affected clinical cancer research, which tests new treatments on patients. During the height of the pandemic, some cancer centers stopped enrolling in clinical trials entirely.

Over half of the clinical investigators surveyed in March concluded that their institutions had stopped collecting blood and other tissue and/or enrollment in certain trials as well as screening.

Although investigators faced several challenges, they managed to adapt to them in order to continue trials. Participants were shipped oral medications, rather than being required to pick them up at the clinic, and laboratory tests were performed outside of the clinic using telehealth.

But what happens when these patients have no choice but to do in-person appointments and hospital stays?

Cancer Patients and Mental Health During COVID-19 Pandemic

Because of their treatments, many cancer patients have lowered immune systems and in the case of the pandemic, this negatively affects patients, as many must still get their treatments at the hospital or cancer center.

Many of these patients experience heightened anxiety regarding their lowered immunity and their cancer in general.

Dr. Scott A. Irwin, director of the patient and family support program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, had this to say:

"Anything we can do to mitigate the anxiety to demonstrate that we're being as safe and cautious as possible with them really helps. But they are afraid to leave their house, for some that's leading to a lot of loneliness, I mean we're all to some extent afraid to leave our house, but they really don't want to be around other people."

In the case of teenagers who are already at risk for mental health struggles, this is particularly challenging.

How the Pandemic Affected a Teen Going Through Cancer

15-year-old Nahtale Lloyd was in the midst of her treatment for brain cancer when the pandemic hit full force in April of 2020.

She was undergoing chemotherapy, causing her immune system to drastically weaken during her treatment protocol. Her mother Amy stated: "She was sick and didn't have much of an immune system. Then the pandemic happened. Nahtale wasn't allowed to leave her hospital room at all."

Before the pandemic, Nahtale was looking forward to attending school again for the first time since her diagnosis in October of 2019. They had it all planned out.

"I was going to wear a mask and attend the second half of school after lunch was over," Nahtale tells us. "I was really excited to see all my friends that I haven't seen in 6 months."

But then the pandemic happened and Nahtale's goal of visiting school had to be postponed indefinitely.

"I was really upset but I knew that there were worse things happening now so I tried not to be too upset," she said.

"Anything we can do to mitigate the anxiety to demonstrate that we're being as safe and cautious as possible with them really helps. But they are afraid to leave their house, for some that's leading to a lot of loneliness, I mean we're all to some extent afraid to leave our house, but they really don't want to be around other people."

"I think the worst part about it was the social isolation. It was doubled," Nahtale said.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, there was less time for hospital staff to spend with patients, and in addition to not being able to leave her hospital room anymore, Nahtale was also not allowed to have any visitors other than her mother who was only able to stay for four hours.

"Going through the scariest time of your life all alone is horrible. I was so lonely and my mental health started getting really bad. It really made me realize how good I had it before the pandemic, even though I had cancer."

Nahtale explains that before the pandemic, she used to be able to walk around the oncology ward and attend tutoring with other children.

"It gave her a sense of normalcy and routine and just something for her to enjoy while in the hospital," said Amy.

But when all of that stopped, Nahtale expressed that she really started to feel the effects on her mental and physical wellbeing.

"Going for a walk was my exercise sometimes for the day and it was really therapeutic for me," Nahtale said. "When I couldn't go for walks anymore, I started to get more and more tired and feeling more and more sick."

Eventually she started having panic attacks because she had so much time to think about the situation.

"What if my friends get COVID? What if I do? What will happen to me or my friends?"

Nahtale expresses that it wasn't until a few weeks in what she calls "double isolation" that she really started to think about those things.

"For the first time I really thought I could actually die."

Nahtale's anxiety and panic attacks got much worse over the course of the next few months.

"Before the pandemic, I used to be super positive, and the thinking about my future didn't really scare me because I thought I was going to be okay. Then the pandemic came and I saw how serious it was. I got really depressed and lonely and I had to talk to a therapist and psychiatrist a lot more."

"For the first time I really thought I could actually die."

As The World Heals, So Does Nahtale

Fast forward two years: Nahtale is 17 years old and in remission and has just started going back to in-person schooling for the first time in two years.

"Overall she is doing really well medically but she has lasting effects on her mental health," says her mother.

Since the pandemic, Nahtale still struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. She was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD and now takes medication to manage her anxiety.

"It's really tough because I still feel scared to be around a lot of people but I'm getting better," Nahtale says. "I'm not depressed anymore."

I was really lucky that the pandemic didn't affect my cancer treatment. Even though it was still tough being isolated so much, for some people it was a lot worse because they couldn't get treatment.

— Nahtale

Nahtale Lloyd

Nahtale Lloyd

Even though for most of the world, the pandemic seems to be somewhat over, for Nahtale and other cancer patients, it is still ongoing—they must remain vigilant and take extra precautions to not be infected.

Nahtale explains that she thinks the hard part is over now and she hopes that the world continues to move forward with everybody doing their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Sources

How COVID-19 impacts cancer research and treatment – Harvard Gazette

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Anxiety, Mental Health in Patients with Cancer (curetoday.com)

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Mia Hensley