Cancer patients navigate treatment, travel during the pandemic

It's been almost 5 years since Ed Russ, a retired police sergeant with the City of Homestead Police Department, was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer.

Ed and his wife Sandy have spent the last 12 months sticking close to their new home in Central Florida, trying to steer clear of the coronavirus.

"I don't know if my immune system could handle it or not, " Russ says.  "I turned 64 this year, so, I'm not sure, but I'd rather not test the waters."

The one road trip the couple is regularly taking is up to Newnan, Georgia.

Every 3 weeks, they drive 6 hours one way to Cancer Treatment Centers of America's (CTCA) Atlanta facility, so Ed can receive a targeted therapy that has held his cancer at bay for nearly 18 months.

The trip requires some logistical planning. 

"We try to take as many precautions as we can," Ed Russ says.  "Like when I pump gas, I wear gloves.  If we have to stop at a rest stop, obviously, we wear masks.  We wash our hands, (and use) lots of hand sanitizer."

Sandy and Ed Russ

They pack food and drinks for the road, so they do not need to stop at crowded restaurants.

Dr. Jeffrey Metts, CTCA  Atlanta's Chief of Staff, says the pandemic has made cancer care more challenging, but the COVID-19 vaccines could soon turn the tide of the pandemic. 

"To date, we've been able to administer over 1,000 doses of the vaccine to our employees," Metts says.

Cancer patients in Georgia will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 15, 2021.

Dr. Metts recommends it for cancer patients in general but says each patient is different.

"So, what we always recommend is, if you're under active treatment, that you talk to your oncology care team and make sure that you formulate the plan that is best tailored for you," he says.

As vaccinations continue, Dr. Metts is urging cancer patients to keep wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.

Ed and Sandy Russ say they miss being able to hug their CTCA treatment team.

"Before it was, like, 'Hey, how are you doing, Mr. Russ," Sandy Russ says.  "And, (we'd get) a hug.  Now, it's just like, 'How are you doing?'  But, you can still see in their eyes that everyone is still happy that you're there and that you're coming for your treatment."

Back home in Florida, Ed and Sandy Russ say they have not been vaccinated.

Sandy Russ says they want to speak with both of their doctors about the vaccine before they make a final decision on whether to get the vaccine.

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