Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Denied Chemotherapy Treatment During COVID-19 Outbreak

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As the COVID-19 virus rages on, more and more hospitals are finding themselves close to capacity and canceling elective surgeries and non-emergent procedures to leave more beds for coronavirus patients and nurses and doctors to treat them. However, one cancer patient believes one particular hospital went too far when it declined to treat her for stage IV metastatic breast cancer, a disease that is slowly claiming her life.

COVID-19 is a strain of coronavirus that first broke out in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and has infected over 275,000 people around the world to date, killing more than 10,000 of those infected. For the time being, many non-essential operations and businesses in locations around the world have shut down. The elderly and immunocompromised are advised to hunker down, and everyone is supposed to be practicing social distancing to keep the virus from spreading.

However, Reilly Starr believes her situation warrants some attention from doctors, even with COVID-19 running rampant.

Starr suffers from stage IV metastatic breast cancer and lives in an 800-square-foot apartment in New York City, in an area that has been hit hard by the virus. As COVID-19 swept through the city, causing businesses to shut down and people to hunker down in their homes, Starr and her family longed for a place where they could have more space for her 2-year-old son to play and where they could stop living in fear.

Starr and her family quickly decided to move back to Richmond, NY, where she is originally from. In preparation for the move, Starr set up her chemotherapy treatments at VCU Massey Cancer Center in Richmond. The hospital, however, later called her back and declined to take her on as a patient due to her “high-risk” state.

“I was shocked,” the 41-year-old said. “I could not believe that this woman was confidently telling me that they could not treat me.”

That’s right. Because Starr’s previous home was in an area where COVID-19 was prevalent, the hospital refused to take her on as a patient. Of course, this measure was only meant to protect other patients and healthcare professionals, but that doesn’t change the fact that Starr is in desperate need of care. She can’t afford to wait very long for COVID-19 to die down so that she can get back to being treated; her breast cancer is slowly killing her.

“As a metastatic breast cancer patient, I require continuous treatment to keep me alive. I am currently vacating Manhattan as a precautionary step to reduce the risks of my family acquiring COVID-19,” Starr wrote on Facebook. “I am appalled. Imagine if our country’s hospitals all respond this way to cancer (or any other kind of severe health condition) patients looking to relocate to safer areas?”

Luckily, however, Starr was able to stand up for herself to get what she needed. “When you’re a terminally ill patient, you often have to advocate for yourself, because doctors are busy people and they don’t know your case as well as you do,” she says.

Starr believes her individual case caused staff at the cancer center to have some important conversations and make the key decisions that will hopefully make this road easier for future cancer patients looking to receive treatment.

The center later reached out to apologize to Starr and reassure her that her case will be handled appropriately. She will be promptly treated after she quarantines herself for two weeks to ensure she’s healthy enough to receive chemotherapy treatment and to be around other immunocompromised patients.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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