Finding Strength in Strangers During Pandemic

Cancer patients struggle with treatments without family by their side

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Many people find strength in their family. However, the coronavirus pandemic has stripped some people of that family foundation at the worst possible time.

“That’s the scary part is that with the pandemic everything you have to do alone,” said Gloria Estrada, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of this year.

A month later, California was locked down. The public health rules changed. Estrada’s family wasn’t allowed to be with her as she underwent surgery and weeks of daily radiation treatments.

“There were times where I would start talking to my kids and nothing but tears and I couldn’t finish,” she recalled. “It’s just horrible.”

“She was nervous,” said Barbara Hayes, a radiation therapist at the Barnhart Cancer Center at the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

“It’s just like being thrown into the middle of a hurricane and you don’t know exactly what to expect,” said Hayes.

That’s where the human side of medical professionals have become even more important.

“Yes, we are doing our job as we are treating you and talking, but you are a person beyond just your disease,” said Hayes.

Estrada said people like Hayes stepped in when her family couldn’t be by her side.

“I don’t know if I would have been able to handle the treatments,” she said. “Because of them it was easier for me.”

“I always tell them it’s just a bump in the road,” said Hayes. “When they ring the bell, they’ve gotten over this big hump and it’s a big hump.”

Cancer patients ring a bell as they complete their treatments.

“I rang it too hard,” laughed Estrada. “I cried when I was handed the diploma because it was hard.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and October 16 is National Mammography Day.

Estrada said her Sharp Chula Vista doctor encouraged her to get a mammogram earlier this year. She said that allowed them to catch and treat her cancer before it spread.

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