Cellphones can help cancer patients fight boredom, nerves

Inside the Emory Winship Cancer Institute's infusion center, Thomas Lowry has an IV in one arm, a phone in the other, and a lot of time of his hands.

"Today probably will be a 5 or 6-hour visit," says the 68-year old North Augusta associate pastor.

Lowry, who has multiple myeloma, alternates between his phone and his laptop computer, checking Facebook and journaling.

"I've been working on Sunday school lessons right now," he says.

And Lowry is surrounded by patients on their devices.

Winship psychiatric oncologist Dr. Wendy Baer sees patients on their phones everywhere she looks, in waiting areas, exam rooms, and in the infusion center.

"Some people like to play games," Dr. Baer says.  "Some people do well listening to music. Sometimes, they're reviewing their questions. Their questions for their oncologist."

Dr. Baer says phones can distract patients from why they're here.

"They're worried about what's going to happen with the scan or the test, they're wondering what the oncologist will say," she says.  "They're wondering if their treatment is even working."

Baer sees patients on their devices who look happy and engaged.

"They'll look at pictures of family or friends," she says.

Others seem rather zoned out, Baer thinks, particularly those playing repetitive games, like Candy Crush.

"It's not very engaging, just to click, click, click," Baer says. "I definitely think that some people end up spending a great deal of time on their phones and don't get anything out of it. Afterward, they're a little bit dazed, a little bit tired."

And, she says, sometimes, that constant connection with the outside world can be difficult, especially for people who are struggling through treatment.

"Seeing social media posts where friends have traveled, or friends are doing exciting things, and they're stuck in the cancer center, seeing all that on your phone can kind of bum you out," Baer says.

So, the next time you're on your phone, Dr. Baer says, ask yourself how you're feeling.

"Is it working for you," she says. "Is it helping you get through this stressful time, while you're dealing with cancer, or not?"

For Tom Lowry, a Baptist missions minister, it is working.

"I was in India a few years ago," Lowry explains.  "And, the pastor said, 'Pastor Tom, when you had your stem cell transplant, we prayed and fasted for 3 days for you.  And, I said, well, that's why I'm here (today)."

His phone is his connection to an army of friends all over the world.

"I want to let them know what's going on, I want them to pray for me," he says. "And, just, they're interested."